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Georgians, Russians Exchange Angry Words At Security Council Debate

July 22, 2008

Georgian and Russian diplomats traded harsh words at a UN Security Council session on July 21 amid escalating tension over Georgia's Moscow-backed breakaway regions.

The closed-door debate was held at the request of Georgian authorities, which sought condemnation for what they say was a violation of Georgian airspace by Russian military aircraft on July 8.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service, Tbilisi's ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, said UN Security Council members unanimously condemned Russia's actions and called on Moscow to refrain from further violations of Georgian airspace.

He said Tbilisi is hoping to curb Moscow's voting rights during debates on Georgia's two Russia-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"There is a procedural norm that, when a conflict is being discussed at the Security Council, limits the powers within the council of a member that is a party in that conflict," Alasania said. "It's too early to say that Russia was declared a party in this conflict after this meeting. In my opinion, we made an important step in that direction today, but we still have to make further progress in the future."

'Prevent Bloodshed'

Russia has admitted to flying fighter jets over South Ossetia on July 8, but said the flights were intended "to prevent bloodshed and keep the situation within legal and peaceful bounds."

The separatist leadership in Abkhazia and South Ossetia also accuses Georgia of orchestrating a recent spate of bombings.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, asked the Security Council on July 21 to urge Tbilisi to stop "its provocative actions" and to adopt a nonbinding resolution calling on the Georgian government to sign an agreement with its separatist foes.

"The main thing is that the right message is sent to the Georgian side and to the parties, the message that the Georgian side should refrain from provocations," Churkin said. "And the first step that the Georgian side could take -- and should take in order to dispel doubts about its motives and intentions -- is to sign an agreement on nonuse of force in both conflict areas. And in the Georgia-Abkhazia area, it would be very important for the Georgian side to pull out its forces from the upper Kodori Gorge."

Thousands Killed

Abkhaz separatist leaders have ruled out direct talks with Tbilisi unless Georgia withdraws troops from the Kodori Gorge, which serves as a de facto border between the breakaway region and the central government.

Both the Abkhaz leadership and Moscow accuse Georgian authorities of building up military in the area to regain Abkhazia by force -- claims firmly rejected by Georgia.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from central Georgian government in wars in the early 1990s that killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.

Despite its consistent support for the separatist leaderships, Moscow has yet to recognize both regions' claims to sovereignty.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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