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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hostages Freed as Georgia, Ossetia Agree Withdrawals

TBILISI, Georgia -- Residents living in the border zone between Georgia and breakaway South Ossetia freed about 40 hostages Sunday, police said.

Georgia and South Ossetia have set a Nov. 20 deadline to withdraw troops and other armed groups from their border zone in an effort to reduce simmering tensions, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Both sides abducted the hostages after the disappearance of an ethnic Georgian man in the region Wednesday.

Eldar Kakhniashvili, 22, from the ethnic Georgian village of Kekhvi failed to return from a trip to collect timber in a nearby forest. Ethnic Georgians accused the South Ossetians of involvement, and they temporarily barricaded a main highway. Ethnic Ossetians then blocked the road themselves to retaliate.

On Thursday, about 40 people -- both ethnic Georgians and ethnic Ossetians -- were taken hostage by both sides as tension rose.

Alexander Sukhitashvili, police chief of the Georgian district of Shida Kartli which borders South Ossetia, said all the hostages were released Sunday in the village of Tamarasheni after successful negotiations between the two sides.

The fate of Kakhniashvili, however, remained unknown. The search for him continued, involving South Ossetian and Georgian police, Sukhitashvili said.

The agreement to withdraw troops by Nov. 20 came after a Russian-hosted meeting Friday between Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and Eduard Kokoity, president of South Ossetia in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Under the agreement, both sides called a cease-fire and an end to all military activity in the conflict zone, located north of Tbilisi.

All armed groups must be removed, leaving only the trilateral peacekeeping force of Georgians, South Ossetians and Russia.

This "creates the necessary conditions for restarting talks on a political settlement of the conflict," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.