Hundreds of residents of Gali in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia are opposing the closure of the Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL) connecting Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia.
De-facto Abkhazian officials have decided to keep only one entry point open through Enguri Bridge.
In response, a crowd of peaceful protesters blocked the central road of Nabakevi village where another crossing point had operated previously. The protesters say that it will be difficult to use only one point of entry and exit because it will be time consuming.
Head of Gali district administration Temur Nadaraia told Abkhazian media that 153 million rubles (US$2,5 million) had been invested in roads near Gali so that residents could comfortably get to the Enguri ABL through the newly repaired road using public transport.
He believes those who are not satisfied with the changes "are mostly those engaged in smuggling and illegal business”.
The European Union Monitoring mission in Georgia (EUMM) expressed "serious concern about the announced closure of crossing points, emphasizing the negative impacts such a step would have on the daily lives of local residents who cross the ABL”.
They say the "closure of crossing points at the Nabakevi-Khurcha and Meore Otobaia-Orsantia ABL and the previously introduced changes to a "border zone” in Abkhazia” were discussed as part of a new agenda of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting in Gali on January 24.
Special emphasis was put on the challenges to freedom of movement for schoolchildren and for patients crossing for medical care”, their official press release reads.
U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly visited the crossings at Nabakevi-Khurcha and Otobaia-Orsantia to personally observe the situation on the ground yesterday.
Closing these crossing points will further restrict freedom of movement for local residents, hurting livelihoods as well as impacting schoolchildren and patients requiring medical treatment”, Ambassador Kelly said.
The Embassy encourages the de-facto Abkhaz authorities "to reconsider these proposed closings and to allow for the movement and access of local citizens to necessary services”.
Deputy Head of the Information-analytical Department under the State Security Service Kakha Kemoklidze believes this decision will restrict citizens’ right to free movement. He believes that the international community should use their influence on de-facto Abkhaz officials and remain committed to the Government of Georgia.