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Diplomatic Row Brews Over a Death in South Ossetia

Authorities in the breakaway statelet claim a Georgian terrorist suspect died of heart failure after resisting his captors.

27 February 2018

South Ossetian authorities say the body of a Georgian man who died while under security service custody in the breakaway territory will not be released to his family until results of the autopsy are studied in Russia.


The man, Archil Tatunashvili, and two others were detained 22 February in the town of Akhalgori, near the administrative border with Georgia. Murat Jioev, a representative of South Ossetia’s de-facto leader Anatoly Bibilov, repeated the South Ossetian KGB’s assertion that died of heart failure following his detention. Tatuanshvili’s family claim he was tortured and killed by security forces, reports.


The European Union on Sunday said the death of Tatunashvili, 35, and the detention of two other men at the same time was a "source of grave concern," RFE/RL reports.


The two others were later released.


South Ossetian authorities say Tatunashvili was suspected of planning acts of terrorism in the territory, which has been supported by neighboring Russia since splitting from Georgia in the early 1990s. The five-day war between Georgia and Russia in 2008 was largely fought in the region.


A map of the Caucasus. Image via Ssolbergj & creator of source map/Wikimedia Commons.


The KGB claims Tatunashvili fought on the Georgian side in the war and thus participated in committing genocide against the Ossetians, according to JAM News. The agency said Tatunashvili resisted officers and tried to take one of their weapons as he was being transferred to a cell after refusing to respond to questioning.


The agency also said Tatunashvili resisted his guards and fell down some stairs, according to


Georgian officials and Tatunashvili's relatives are demanding that the man's body be transferred to Tbilisi for an autopsy.


Several hundred people blocked Georgia’s two main highways on Monday night, demanding that his body be handed over to Georgian authorities by midday today, says.



  • Tatunashvili often crossed into South Ossetia to sell fruits and vegetables, the head of Georgia’s Akhalgori region told a local TV station.


  • The two men detained with him are now in Akhalgori after being released. They “will temporarily stay” in South Ossetia pending further questioning by the authorities, Jioev said.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

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