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EU monitors arrive in Georgia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, September 30
The Georgia media is still reporting that Georgian villages are being attacked by Ossetian fighters. Among other incidents, the villages of Knolevi, Avlevi and Tseronisi have been assaulted by Ossetian gunmen. These villages are in the so-called “buffer zones” in Georgia proper, inside the border with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which are still occupied by Russian troops who support Ossetian fighters. On Monday local residents were forced to leave about 80 houses in the affected villages.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the original Russia-Georgia ceasefire agreement, recently announced that “over 200 EU peacekeepers will replace Russian troops,” who are obliged to leave the buffer zones by October 10 under an agreement signed by Presidents Sarkozy and Medvedev. The first of these observers arrived in Tbilisi on September 29, with their number eventually to be swelled to over 200. They are being stationed in Tbilisi, Zugdidi, Poti and Gori, close to the conflict regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On September 30 EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will also pay a one-day visit to Georgia to hold talks with the Georgian leadership. Solana will meet President Saakashvili, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Secretary of the National Security Council Alexander Lomaia and opposition politicians.

The attention the European Union is paying to the Georgian-Russian conflict was welcomed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “We and our European allies will help Georgia ... The United States and Europe strongly support the independence and the territorial integrity of Russia’s neighbours,” she said on September 28. Rice also talked about Georgia’s desire to obtain a NATO Membership Action Plan in near future. “We will not permit Russia to veto the future of NATO, neither the countries offered membership nor their decision to accept it,” said Rice, quoted by Reuters news agency. Georgia was refused a MAP at the NATO Bucharest summit in April 2008, and many international commentators considered at the time that Russia had influenced this decision. The next chance Georgia has of obtaining a MAP is this December’s summit of NATO Foreign Ministers. “Georgia and Ukraine will become NATO members one day,” said NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer during his September visit to Tbilisi, although he didn’t give any timeframe for this.

At the opening of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly session in Strasbourg on September 29 its President Lluis Maria de Puig stated that “The Council of Europe must spare no criticism and must condemn all that it considers to be a violation of its principles and values with the utmost firmness. We must, in particular, look to the future and show prudence and political vision, for we are all aware that the conflict between Georgia and Russia is fraught with consequences, not only for both countries but for the entire region, other European regions and Europe as a whole,” he added. “The main question that should guide us during our discussions on this subject should be what we want for the future of Europe and how we can guarantee its peace and stability,” he said, as quoted by Georgian online daily Civil Georgia. The August war will be the main focus of the session, which will last for four days.

Although Russia has committed itself to leaving the buffer zones, Russian troops will not leave the conflict zones. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced that 8,000 Russian soldiers will be stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Lavrov condemned NATO’s support of Georgia, saying the alliance “didn’t learn any lessons” from the August conflict. Russia blames Georgia for the attack on South Ossetia and considers the actions of the Georgian side an “aggression against the Ossetian people.”