Nov 13, 2009

EU urges South Ossetia to release Georgia teenagers

By Matt Robinson

The European Union said on Thursday it deplored the detention of four Georgian teenagers in Russian-backed breakaway South Ossetia and urged their release.

The teenagers -- aged between 14 and 17 -- have been held since Nov. 4, when South Ossetian authorities say they were detained for illegally crossing the de facto border armed with grenades and other explosive materials.

"Our view is that this is deplorable," Ambassador Olaf Skoog of the EU's Political and Security Committee said during a visit to Georgia. "We urge that the people detained be released as soon as possible."

"There are special regulations that apply for children in armed conflicts," the Swedish diplomat told a news conference. "All who have influence over these kinds of cases should do their best to resolve them quickly."

The remarks echoed a statement issued by the Swedish EU presidency on Thursday.

More than 25 Georgians have been briefly detained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for border violations in the past month, straining tempers over a year since South Ossetia was the focus of a five-day war between Russia and Georgia.

All but the teenagers have been quickly released. South Ossetia says the Red Cross has been given access to the teenagers, whose photographs have been released to media.

Russia recognised both rebel territories as independent states after crushing a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in August last year, and Russian security forces have taken charge of their de facto borders.

Some 225 EU observers monitor the fragile ceasefire along the boundaries with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but are denied access to either territory.

The South Ossetian and Abkhaz authorities say the monitors should focus their attention on Georgia. Russia frequently accuses the pro-Western government of President Mikheil Saakashvili of re-arming.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted South Ossetian Defence Minister Yury Tanayev on Thursday as saying Georgia was conducting reconnaissance flights in preparation for an attack.

"If they continue, measures will be taken to stop any intrusions into South Ossetia's airspace," he said.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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