South Ossetia in three-way prisoner swap with Tbilisi

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A Georgian man was on Sunday handed over to the Georgian government from breakaway region South Ossetia’s prison in a three-way deal that is expected to see Tbilisi release its prisoner from Abkhazia, Georgia’s second separatist region.

Giorgi Giunashvili, a resident of Georgia’s Disevi village in Gori region, was arrested in June last year for crossing the disputed border between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia demarcated illegally by Russia after the 2008 war.

“Giorgi Giunashvili’s release is an important and positive step in the peace process,” said the office of Georgia’s state minister for reconciliation and civic equality, according to the local news agency, IPN.

The prisoner was handed over to Tbilisi on the disputed border near the village of Ergneti, according to RES, the South Ossetian news agency.

The agency said Giunashvili was imprisoned “on the charge of taking part in an act of sabotage and terrorism”.

He was pardoned by South Ossetia’s de facto leader Anatoly Bibilov and handed over to Tbilisi through the representative of Abkhazia.

“The convict’s handover is the expression of respect to Abkhazia’s president Raul Khajimba, who asked Anatoly Bibilov to pardon Giorgi Giunashvili so that later he is exchanged for Abkhaz citizen, who is imprisoned in Georgia,” said Murat Jioev, the representative of South Ossetia’s de facto leader in the post-conflict regulation issues.

He expressed his hope that Georgia and the international community will see the act as a proof that South Ossetia and Abkhazia seek good neighbourly relations with Tbilisi.

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South Ossetia (population 53,000) and Abkhazia (population 240,000) broke away from Georgia with the help of the Russian military in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and Georgia claimed independence.

Russia recognised both territories – funded from the Russian budget – as independent states in 2008 after a five-day war between Moscow and Tbilisi.

South Ossetia has expressed the wish to be annexed by Russia after Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsulaand is expected to hold a referendum about the issue in the near future.

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