- Title: GEORGIA: Georgian soldiers freed by separatists
- Date: 9th July 2008
- Summary: WOMAN WALKING PAST SOUTH OSSETIAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING OSCE CAR
- Embargoed: 24th July 2008 13:00
- Location: Georgia
- Country: Georgia
- Topics: Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVA18UACZM9JUZD4HZN1KD3DEX2I
- Story Text: Four Georgian soldiers detained in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia were freed on Tuesday. They appeared battered and bruised.
Four Georgian soldiers detained in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia were freed on Tuesday after President Mikheil Saakashvili threatened to send police to release them.
Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia -- a tiny sliver of land high up in the Caucasus mountains -- detained the soldiers on Monday, raising tension a day before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Tbilisi.
The men were taken to hospital for treatment. Television pictures showed them looking battered and bruised.
"We were attacked by people in civilian clothes and they took us to a horrible place," said one of the soldiers.
Earlier on Tuesday, two men dressed in Georgian military uniform with their faces covered were shown to journalists. Later the Georgian Defence Ministry confirmed its servicemen were detained by South Ossetian police, but said that they had been kidnapped.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had threatened to send police into the region -- a tiny sliver of land high up in the Caucasus mountains -- to free the soldiers.
"The illegal detention of our servicemen can be considered only as a kidnapping by criminal gangs." Saakashvili said.
"These bandits are testing our tolerance and our desire to keep the region calm. I think we must categorically and immediately demand their release, but at the same time I am giving order to the Interior ministry if local illegal armed gangs do not release our servicemen in the near future then Georgian police will release them. I am ordering to the Interior ministry of Georgia to start preparations for the release of illegally kidnapped servicemen immediately and I want to tell to these bandits we will not tolerate it and we won't let it happen again, let them know it," he added.
This latest incident came as an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) delegation arrived in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, a day after their visit to Tbilisi. The OSCE delegation was on a fact-finding mission to the troubled region, seeking to establish dialogue between Tbilisi and separatist leaders.
But Eduard Kokoity, President of South Ossetia, expressed scepticism about OSCE mediation.
"We have a certain degree of mistrust, because we see those reports which go to the OSCE headquarters and which strongly contradict the real situation here in South Ossetia," said Eduard Kokoity during a meeting with the OSCE delegation.
The delegation arrived in Tbilisi just days after an overnight clash killed two people in South Ossetia.
The Russian-backed separatist administration in Tskhinvali called up military reservists and put its security forces on alert after the most intense exchange of fire for months in South Ossetia.
"Now we are afraid to go out even in daylight, because we fear that sporadic shooting might start unexpectedly again, we are very, very scared," said Tskhinvali resident, Nairi Goginova.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit Tbilisi on Wednesday (July 9) for a two-day visit to discuss regional security and Georgia's NATO aspirations.
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