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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Captives Await Outcome of Talks




DZHIKHASKARI, Georgia -- On the sixth day of a hostage standoff, kidnappers and their three UN captives shared food, wine and camaraderie Tuesday while negotiators worked toward high-level talks to resolve the crisis.


In Moscow, Georgia's ambassador to Russia met a senior political opponent of President Eduard Shevardnadze on Tuesday, seeking to win the release of UN hostages kidnapped in the former Soviet republic.


Nemo Burchuladze, who describes himself as deputy speaker of the Georgian parliament in exile, said he had no connection to the hostage-takers, but was eager to take part in talks if they could help to prevent bloodshed.


"I am ready for the meeting if it could save human lives," Burchuladze said.


Armed supporters of late nationalist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia have been holding three UN military observers -- a Uruguayan, a Czech and a Swede -- hostage at a farmhouse in western Georgia since Thursday. A fourth hostage, Uruguayan Julio Navas, was freed Sunday. In the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Prosecutor-General Dzhamlet Babilashvili said he had prepared, but not yet delivered, an ultimatum for the kidnappers to release the hostages.


He refused to give details of the ultimatum or the deadline it contains, but warned that an anti-terrorist unit was in Dzhikhaskari, the western Georgian village where the kidnappers have been holed up in a house with their hostages since Thursday.


Inside the house, a party atmosphere prevails. Red Izabella wine and champagne have been flowing freely, as the UN hostages and their kidnapper hosts trade toasts and jokes and dig into the steady supply of food officials deliver each day.


Television footage has shown the kidnappers and the hostages in friendly conversations around a well-stocked dinner table. Journalists routinely cross police lines and go into the house, where they also drink wine and eat the chicken, lamb kebabs, and cornmeal-and-cheese stew that neighbors have dropped by to help prepare.


The kidnappers, supporters of the late former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, are demanding direct political negotiations with Georgian leaders and the release of seven comrades arrested in connection with the attack on Shevardnadze.


The Georgian president alleges the kidnappers are the same men behind the assassination attempt -- a charge the kidnappers deny.


Gocha Esebua, the kidnappers' leader, said the talks Tuesday in Moscow weren't enough. He and his comrades insisted Tuesday that talks take place in Tbilisi, "under the aegis of the United Nations, between official delegations of both sides.


"As soon as such talks begin in Tbilisi, and their real results become visible, then the hostages will be released," Esebua said.


If they had to fight, he predicted, "the hostages will fight on our side."