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Sides hail the results of Geneva talks

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, February 20
Participants of the talks on security issues in the Georgian conflict zones have stated that “progress” was achieved in Geneva on February 17-18.

The main outcome of the negotiations was the creation of an “incident prevention mechanism” that is intended to keep the situation in the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under control and investigate the incidents which already have become a continual reality, especially in the regions close to the administrative borders with the separatist territories. The mechanism also includes agreements for ensuring the provision of humanitarian aid to the population.

The full text of the agreements is not yet publicly available, but a communique published on February 18 after the meeting says: “The mechanisms will allow for regular contacts between the structures responsible for security and public order in the areas of tension and relevant international organizations. They will meet on a weekly basis, or more often if required. Inaugural sessions will be convened soon. Following any incidents agreed joint visits may be conducted.”

The Georgian side already welcomed the creation of this mechanism, evaluating it as the “first step to the creation of a propitious security environment on the ground [in the conflict zones].” “Currently international organizations are denied access to the occupied territories. The incident prevention mechanism must be a significant step forward as it is aimed at increasing the transparency, and the monitoring, of the security situation in the occupied territories. We hope that in the same spirit OSCE and EUMM observers will be allowed into the occupied territories in the nearest future,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced in a special statement published on February 19.

“Participants of the Geneva discussions also reaffirmed their commitment to the safe and dignified return of IDPs and refugees to the places of their habitual residence and discussed the obstacles to this process. OSCE was called upon to intensify its efforts in ensuring access to water and other utilities to the citizens of Georgia in need residing in the areas adjacent to the Tskhinvali Region,” adds the Ministry.

Russia’s representative at the Geneva talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, underlined that this agreement is “the first collection of practical measures and recommendations agreed by the representatives of Abkhazia, Georgia, South Ossetia, Russia, USA and the international organizations, UN, OSCE and EU.” The Russian Deputy Minister noted that “it wasn’t easy to adopt this document, and that’s why it is important to start its practical realization as soon as possible. Experience will show how effectively these mechanisms will work.”

Moscow has also announced the document is called a “proposal” and has “a recommendation format,” however it has “extreme importance and is dedicated to establishing more predictable and calm interstate relations between Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Georgia. Russia will certainly assist in this process,” a Kremlin official underlined.

Representatives of the Abkhazian separatist authorities are not so optimistic about the results of the negotiations. “This is a purely technical mechanism concerning the exchange of information on security. It allows the sides to conduct regular meetings in the bordering regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia for discussion of the incidents that are taking place in the border territories – kidnappings, killings and others. We have managed to agree on that, but nothing else,” stated Vyacheslav Chirikba, a participant of the Geneva talks from the de facto Abkhazian Government. The South Ossetian de facto authorities also consider that the creation of the mechanisms is not enough and request the adoption of a document on “non use of force,” that will prevent the resumption of military actions in the region.

The US, however, is more positive, though cautious. "They are not self-executing documents. Putting them into effect will depend on good will on all sides and we’ll have to see whether the good will that existed today in sufficient quantity to reach this achievement continues, particularly on the ground," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Fried, said after the talks. Pierre Morel, the Special Representative of the European Union for the Crisis in Georgia, stated the Geneva discussions “were moving ahead, and the fourth session was especially productive. The sides should neither exaggerate nor minimize the importance of this document, as it is the first document resulting from the Geneva discussions and it dealt with the urgent issues of today.” He concluding by saying that he was “quite satisfied with the results.”

While welcoming the progress at the Geneva talks, the Georgian side also noted that “It is essential to discuss the implementation of the August 12 ceasefire agreement at the next round of Geneva discussions and put a particular emphasis on the new security regime on the ground. A similar position was expressed by the co-moderators and the representatives of the United States. Discussions about the elaboration of new security arrangements in the occupied territories will lead to the establishment of an appropriate security environment on the ground and aim at the restoration of status quo ante bellum [the return of the military forces of all sides to their prewar positions], as agreed in the August 12 ceasefire agreement.“

Georgian independent political expert Soso Tsiskarishvili has stated that he doesn’t expect much from the agreed document. “We have seen a lot of documents of this kind, from 1993 onwards, when the Russian Army was still referred to as a “peacekeeping force.” The present reality shows what come out of that document. Of course the existence of this kind of document is better than not having an agreement at all, however I’m sure that pretty soon, the different sides of the conflict will be concentrating on mutual accusations of violations of the agreement instead of doing things to stabilize the situation,” stated Tsiskarishvili The analyst considers that the only way to achieve progress is through direct talks between the parties to the conflict – Georgia and Russia, and direct negotiations between the central Georgian Government with its breakaway regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The negotiations in Geneva began on November 2008, now being conducted in the format of “unofficial expert working groups” including representatives of Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia but with no indication of what entities they represent, as well as the USA, UN, EU and OSCE. The next round of talks will be held in May-June 2009, the exact dates not having been defined yet.