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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Releases Kidnapping Suspects




TBILISI, Georgia -- Authorities have released all 12 suspects who surrendered earlier this week at the end of a hostage siege involving four United Nations military observers, officials said Friday.


The 12 suspects freed the last of the their UN hostages and gave themselves up Wednesday following a weeklong standoff in a village in western Georgia.


No one was harmed and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's government had promised to be lenient with the kidnappers if they surrendered.


Georgian police in Zugdidi released the kidnappers under written pledges not to leave the area after carrying out interrogations and determining they did not have criminal records.


The 12 were interrogated by security officials and then were freed Thursday, said the president's spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze.


"The government has fulfilled its promise," Abashidze said.


The suspects pledged to remain in western Georgia, but it was not clear if they would be charged with any crime.


Authorities stressed, however, that the group would be held responsible for the kidnapping.


The leader of the kidnappers, Gotsch Easybua, managed to escape Wednesday, even though the besieged house in the small village was surrounded by heavily armed security forces throughout the incident.


The four UN military observers were taken hostage Feb. 19 by gunmen who barricaded themselves in a house in the western village of Dzhikhaskari.


The hostage-takers, followers of the late former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, issued a broad array of demands. They included the release of seven comrades jailed in connection with a Feb. 9 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze.


On Thursday, the Georgian Interior Ministry said Easybua helped plan the attack. Shevardnadze had previously said the kidnappers were involved in the attempt on his life.


Shevardnadze emerged unharmed from the bloody attack on his motorcade, but two bodyguards and an assailant were killed.


Despite the accusations, the president agreed to direct negotiations with a representative chosen by the kidnappers, and at that point the gang surrendered.


The kidnappers' main goal was apparently to gain new political standing for supporters of Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in a coup in 1992 and died two years later.