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Disarmed Caucasians: a myth or a reality?17.08.2009 | 23:04
After a sad anniversary of the August events a fragile peace has set up on the Georgian-South Ossetian border. At least no shots are heard. For the first time at the quadrilateral incident prevention meeting in Dvani the parties reached certain agreements. South Ossetian authorities are going to disarm people living in near-border districts. And what is Georgia going to do? GeorgiaTimes correspondent is interviewing RSO Ambassador to Russia Dmitry Medoev and head of Interior Ministry's Information and Analytical Department Shota Utiashvili.
The fact that RSO authorities had asked residents to turn in their weapons voluntarily was reported by the New York Times. South Ossetia's Deputy Interior Minister Vitaly Gassiev told the newspaper the objective of the campaign was to learn the lessons Russia had learned in the North Caucasus "where wars left a residue of crime, with "guns in hands and lots of uncontrolled elements". "I think the project will work without question. There is a guarantee of security now", - Gassiev's words are posted on Cvil Georgia with reference to the New York Times.
The newspaper also quotes Magdalena Frichova, the International Crisis Group researcher, remarking that the OSCE tried to launch this program several years before but it was of no effect. According to Frichova the situation has changed now and Russia may feel a need to extend control of a region where small militias have thrived. In the Georgian translation of the NYT article it's mentioned that every family owns firing arms according to RSO Ambassador to Moscow Dmitry Medoev.
GeorgiaTImes correspondent got in touch with Dmitry Medoev to have a better idea of the disarming program and hear comments on the statement of the Georgian side about South Ossetia acknowledged firing at Georgian villages.
This is what the head of information and analytical department of Georgian Interior Ministry Shota Utiashvili told the journalists on August 14: "At the incident prevention and response meeting the Ossetian side acknowledged the facts of firing and stated they were being investigated and the culprits would be punished. It will be a positive step, if it happens".
Dmitry Medoev said he had taken note of inaccuracies in Georgian translation. In his interview with the NYT he speaks about events 20 years ago, about first clashes between Ossetians and Georgians in 1989. Before that Georgian authorities had stripped many Ossetian hunters of their rifles. After the Soviet Army's two pull-outs of South Ossetia Tskhinval decided to follow Switzerland's example where every adult man is required to show up, prepared to fight, during periods of tension. For an Ossetian, according to Medoev, a weapon is an essential part of daily life, his worldview, his accessory, if you will.
As for public disarmament issue he noted: "After the end of the Georgian-Ossetian war in August people in South Ossetia have a lot of trophy weapons on hand. These are mostly US M16, M14, M4 rifles, and a lot of large-caliber machine guns seized at the time of hostilities. Sure South Ossetian government can't be blind to that. Now withdrawal of trophy arms is a top level issue discussed in South Ossetia. So far the issue is on a discussion level. No specific decisions have been made yet".
Medoev said, they also considered the US experience where arms possession was governed by laws. Some states allow free turnover of arms, others allow free sale and purchase, and some states put categorical ban on that. This is more or less what we think to do. But South Ossetia might take a different direction, for instance offering compensation for trophy arms. This discussion goes on in the States and other countries. South Ossetia is not an exception. The only thing we are seeking is to comply with international democratic norms.
As the interviewee said Saakashvili's revenge policy prevention and consequently Georgia's remilitarization is still one of the priorities. There comes the question of EU monitors' place and role. As for firings, according to RSO Ambassador to Russia they started in the run-up to mourning ceremonies on August 7. From the Georgian side.
However at the Dvani meeting Deputy RSO Plenipotentiary for post-conflict settlement Merab Chigoev said the following about the August 12 incident as RES IA reports: "Allegedly the firing was from Mugut village of the Znaur district of South Ossetia. The fact of shooting was confirmed by representatives of our Defense Ministry. Since no one, especially South Ossetia, wants such incidents to continue we said we would take all possible measures to investigate the circumstances. We also asked to treat incidents the Georgian side is in charge with in a similar way.
It is noteworthy the Caucasian passion for arms is shared by all people on both sides of the boundary. GeorgiaTimes correspondent had a chance to see it with her own eyes during her trip before the August events. For people of Georgian and Ossetian villages a submachine gun and even a grenade launcher at home was as customary as a traditional tableful of guests. That's why I ask Dmitry Medoev to explain: "Given the population has weapons, can firing be organized by common people?"