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Russia keeping monitors out while violations continue

By David Matsaberidze
Monday, September 22
The OSCE and Russia have failed to agree on the terms of the former’s mission to Georgia. Talks on sending monitors into Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region have stalled over Russian objections, as observers in the area reported continuing violence inside the territory.

Last month the OSCE agreed in principle to send 100 unarmed military monitors to Georgia and 20 were quickly deployed. But since then talks on securing a right of access to separatist territory have dragged on inconclusively. Georgia's OSCE envoy has blamed this on Russia's refusal to let monitors move past Russian Army checkpoints into South Ossetia, and Moscow's demand that the local authorities there decide what the OSCE mandate should be because their territory is now “independent.” Russia's envoy has said that South Ossetia was loth to let monitors back in because they failed to alert the authorities there to Georgia's offensive to wrest back the region, and should therefore be stationed in the territory “from which the aggression came.”

A report filed by OSCE monitors patrolling Georgia's internal boundary with South Ossetia cited “serious security concerns” in ethnic Georgian villages just inside the rebel region, with “criminality and harassment by South Ossetian elements appearing to be widespread.” Despite this, the OSCE has suspended negotiations about the mandate of its monitors. “We don't see the point of continuing the Vienna negotiations at this stage. They have been put on hold. The area of responsibility for monitors is the main sticking point”, Antti Turunen of Finland, currently chairing the policy making OSCE Permanent Council, stressed. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Nesterenko however has said that the OSCE, rather than Russia, should be held accountable for the disruption of the talks. Nesterenko stressed that the OSCE obeyed only the will of the Georgian Government, which he accused of ignoring the six-point ceasefire agreement. Nesterenko urged Georgia to meet its commitments and stop misinterpreting the text of the document. “The ceasefire agreements did not stipulate that international observers should take positions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Nesterenko mentioned.

Moscow is also demanding modification of the existing UNOMIG mandate in Georgia. Another Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Aleksander Yakovenko, argues that the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the August developments is now radically different to that which pertained when the mandate was drawn up. “The Georgian army is not stationed in the Kodory Gorge and military hardware has also been pulled out. There is a new reality, and we therefore believe that the UN mission should fulfill other functions.” Yakovenko also maintains that the mission should bear a new title and set up a new office in another location. “If the office moves to Georgian territory there will be no need to change its title, but if it remains in Abkhazia, its name should be changed, because Abkhazia is now an independent state,” he stressed.

Whilst objecting to the various missions to Georgia, Russia has deployed more troops, tanks and military vehicles to Akhalgori, in the Shida Kartli Region. Locals say that new units of the Russian Army have also been seen in their villages and complain that they are facing unbearable pressure from Russians and Ossetians. Civilians are even prohibited from speaking in Georgian; therefore, most of the ethnic Georgian families are fleeing their homes.

On September 19 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili left for the UN General Assembly session in New York. Before his departure, he commented that “A new epoch of relations has begun in Georgia; Georgia is not alone, we are enjoying the world's great support.'' He added that Georgia should continue to develop and reinforce democracy.