TBILISI, DFWatch – An opposition politician in the former Soviet republic of Georgia accuses the government of lying about when three servicemen died last week.

Salome Zourabichvili, Georgia’s former Foreign Minister, accuses the government of having postponed the sad news about the deaths until after President Mikheil Saakashvili had finished his visit to Georgian soldiers stationed in the Helmand province.

Saakashvili’s visit was broadly covered by the country’s government-friendly TV station, which broadcast his speech live, and showed him eating dinner with the soldiers. In his speech, Mr Saakashvili drew up the long historic lines of Georgia’s foreign involvement and commended the troops for having made his country and the world safer. Five soldiers were awarded medals for their service to the country.

He was reported to have been driven around in the area on a tour of the territory being patrolled by the troops at the base.

Two days later, the defense ministry issued a statement which said that three soldiers had died in Afghanistan as the vehicle they were driving in was hit by an explosion. Zourabichvili points to a news release on the web pages of the ISAF mission which states that three soldiers died February 20, the same day as Saakashvili visited. At the time of this writing, ISAF has not issued any releases about casualties after that. In a posting on Facebook, Zourabichvili accuses the government of lying about the date of death, to make it appear that the attack was unrelated to Saakashvili’s visit.

Several opposition politicians have said that the three soldiers died as a result of Saakashvili’s surprise visit. There is strong support among most of them for Georgia’s presence within the ISAF mission, but a demonstration outside parliament today while Saakashvili gave his state of the nation address was reported to have a slogan that asked to pull Georgia’s troops out of Afghanistan.