UN Security Council Set To Extend UNOMIG Mandate
February 13, 2009
Sergei Shamba, the de facto foreign minister of Abkhazia, has written to UN Security Council President Yukio Takasu to inform him that Abkhazia does not object to the draft Security Council resolution on extending for a further four months, until June 15, 2009, the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). The Security Council is scheduled to vote on that resolution on February 13.
Shamba said that the Abkhaz leadership still has reservations about some unspecified formulations in the draft, but nonetheless reaffirms its commitment to cooperation in the sphere of security, the nonrecourse to military force, protection of human rights, and observing the cease-fire agreement signed on August 12, 2008, by the Russian and French presidents.
Shamba had previously warned that Abkhazia would not agree to the UN observers' continued presence on Abkhaz territory unless the name of the mission were changed to UN Observer Mission in Abkhazia (in acknowledgment of Russia's formal recognition last August of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states). He explained on February 5 that that "we don't want to kick the observers out," but "we won't stand for being treated as secondary participants." He added that the UN observers -- who are unarmed -- do not contribute to security in the region as they would be unable to halt any new military aggression on the part of Georgia.
Meeting on February 11 in Sukhumi with the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh similarly affirmed that Abkhazia does not want UNOMIG's mandate renewed in its current form. He further warned that Georgian hopes that the EU will provide an alternative peacekeeping force to replace the UN mission are utopian, and there is no point in unnamed European countries asking Russia to pressure Abkhazia to agree to any such force.
The draft resolution does in fact make certain concessions to the Abkhaz position. Specifically, according to civil.ge on February 11 quoting AFP, it does not mention Georgia by name or include the formulation UNOMIG.
But as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out in his February 3 report to the Security Council on the situation in Abkhazia, the conditions under which UNOMIG operates have changed fundamentally since the Georgia-Russia conflict last August. Most crucially, the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone since the summer of 1994, and which provided security for the unarmed UNOMIG observers, has been withdrawn.
Consequently, "the operation and security of the mission now depend largely on the goodwill of the sides." He said the security situation remains tense, with "a considerable number of security incidents involving casualties on both sides," and could well "deteriorate further," and that "what little communication there was between the sides has largely broken down." Ban therefore proposed interim measures for strengthening security in Abkhazia pending an agreement on a more detailed formal security regime.
Those proposals combine elements of the 1994 Moscow agreement that formed the basis for the deployment of UNOMIG, together with provisions of the agreements of August 12 and September 8, 2008, on ending hostilities between Georgia and Russia and ensuring that they do not resume.
Specifically, Ban advocated strict observation of the existing cease-fire; a zone extending 12 kilometers on either side of the de facto border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, within which "the presence of armed forces and equipment will not be allowed, with the exception of law enforcement personnel, the number of which should not exceed 600 on either side, armed with personal and side arms" and a further zone, corresponding to the 1994 "restricted weapons zone," from which heavy military equipment, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, and all types of artillery and mortars would be excluded. He also proposed a ban on overflights by military aircraft and drones, and that both sides give advance notification of any changes in the deployment of armed personnel and equipment in the two key zones.
On February 10, in what could be construed as a rejection of Ban's proposals, Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili proposed instead that "Abkhazia should be declared a weapons-free zone." He pledged that Georgia would not send troops into Abkhazia, and advocated as the most effective means of ensuring the safety and security of the local population the deployment of an international police force.
Shamba swiftly rejected Yakobashvili's demilitarization proposal as inappropriate, arguing that Abkhazia does not pose a military threat, whereas Georgia does. He added that the Abkhaz leadership has no trust whatsoever in the Georgian government and for that reason does not take seriously statements by members of that government.
Copyright (c) 2009. 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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