Tuesday, August 30, 2005, #162 (0936)

Deportation falls through, Kmara members still held

Georgia sends diplomats from Moscow, Kiev to talk with Belarus officials

By Keti Sikharulidze

Despite statements that they would be released over the weekend, two Georgian activists of the youth movement Kmara, Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze, remain under arrest in Minsk, Belarus.

The two were detained on August 24 in what Belarus law enforcement described as a "crackdown on illegal aliens and attempts to destabilize the country."

Since Georgia has no official relations with President Alexander Lukashenko's government, Georgian consuls from Kiev and Moscow have travelled to Minsk to meet with local officials.

Georgian officials have demanded Tsuladze's and Kandelaki's release without deportation, as Belarus law enforcement reported on Wednesday the two would be deported on Saturday.

On Monday several reports indicated the two had been released but a leader of Kmara Tea Tutberidze said this was not the case.

"After those reports, I contacted our consuls in Belarus and they did not confirm the information, they still continue negotiations with Belarus law enforcers," said Tutberidze in an interview with The Messenger.

Commenting on the situation the leader of the Liberty Institute Levan Ramishvili says that by announcing that the two would be released on Saturday, Belarus tried to buy time, as the flights to Belarus are only on Saturdays.

"But after they were not released on Friday they claim that it was Saturday, a day off and that was why they could not release them," said Ramishvili.

As Georgian TV stations reported on August 29, the Kmara activists were in a very bad condition and were asking for help, but Georgian diplomats and lawyers are not allowed to visit them regularly.

"This information was disseminated by a letter given to a lawyer after he visited them on Monday to bring some food. We are now discussing this information to specify the details," said Tutberidze.

Ramishvili claims that while in Kazan, Russia, President Mikheil Saakashvili had private talks with his Belarus colleague and demanded the activists' immediate release.

"Georgian society and especially the media should become more active in spreading information outside the country to stand against such illegal activities," Ramishvili stated.

The Kmara activists explained on the same day of detention that the main reason for Tsuladze and Kandelaki traveling to Minsk was to show support for the local youth movement Zubr, which opposes President Lukashenko.

Ramishvili called the arrest of a "provocation," saying "the only aim of arresting these people was to show what consequences would await anyone who supports any kind of democratic movement in the country."