TBILISI, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- The Georgian government passed a bill Thursday proposing changes to a law that criminalizes entries into the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Russia.
Georgia's Reintegration Minister Paata Zakareishvili told the press that the government would present the proposal to the parliament for discussion.
"Today the government passed a bill that will be sent to the parliament for discussion and it concerns entries into the occupied territories," said the official. "If a person who violates the rule of entering the occupied territories, according to the bill prepared by us, the person will face only administrative punishment for the first time."
"Penalty will be used as punishment and criminal prosecution will be applied after repeatedly violating the rule of entering the occupied territories," the minister said.
Existing Georgian regulations, adopted soon after the August 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia, make it illegal for foreign citizens to enter Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Russia. The same regulations stipulate Georgia's Zugdidi as the legal entry point into Abkhazia and Georgia's Gori as the legal entry point into South Ossetia.
Violations of the regulations can result in a fine or a prison term of between two and four years and violations for multiple times or in groups can result in prison terms of between three and five years.
The Georgian reintegration minister said that the government proposal would make entries into Abkhazia and South Ossetia an administrative offense subject to financial penalties instead of prison terms.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has called on Georgia to review its law on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It said in a report that continued application of the law "remained a concern for the effectiveness of the engagement strategy."
The Russian foreign ministry said early last year that the Georgian law on Abkhazia and South Ossetia was making Russian citizens subject to criminal prosecution upon arrival in Georgia.
Abkhazia pronounced independence along with South Ossetia after the August 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia.
Georgia claims sovereignty and territorial integrity over Abkhazia and South Ossetia which have been recognized by some states including Russia.