Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Georgia separatists warn may block U.N. monitors

Christian Lowe and Conor Sweeney


February 10

Georgia's separatist Abkhazia region said on Tuesday it will not allow United Nations ceasefire monitors to continue working in its territory unless the mission's name is changed to reflect separatists' desire for independence'

But, Western diplomats in Moscow said Russia and not Abkhazia would have the decisive say in whether the mandate for the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) is renewed. Abkhazia objects to the reference to Georgia.

Separatist foreign minister Sergei Shamba said the new mandate -- to replace one which expires on February 15 -- must change the mission's name to reflect the separatists' assertion that Abkhazia is an independent state.

"If it (the new mandate) does not correspond to our proposals we will not allow them in. We will not allow the U.N. mission in Georgia into Abkhazia," Shamba told Reuters in a telephone interview.

In New York, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters a group of key countries had drafted a resolution extending the mandate for four months. The Security Council was expected to pass it later this week, he said.

Western governments say the U.N. mission plays a central role in preventing new hostilities between separatist and Georgian forces, who are locked in a tense standoff after Abkhaz forces drove out Tbilisi's troops in fighting in the 1990s.

This week's dealings at U.N. headquarters in New York over the mandate are seen by many observers as a test of Russia's willingness to work with the international community after it angered many Western states with its war with Georgia last year.

Georgia said it wanted the mandate left unchanged and would not accept a mission that undermined its territorial integrity.

"In my opinion, Abkhazia is bluffing," Georgian Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister on Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili told Reuters.

Uncertain future

For years there has been consensus on the need for the U.N. observer mission but last year's war -- and Russia's subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and the second breakaway region of South Ossetia as independent -- have made its status more precarious.

Russia last year blocked the renewal of the mandate for an Organization for Security and Cooperation observer mission in South Ossetia, saying the mandate had to be changed to acknowledge the region's statehood.

The final deadline to agree on the OSCE mission's mandate falls on February 18. The OSCE said on Tuesday two of its monitors were briefly detained in South Ossetia.

But one Western diplomat in Moscow who is familiar with the talks said the U.N. mission was different.

"For Russia, it will be more difficult to boot out the U.N., when it also says the U.N. should be the core forum where international disputes should be handled," he said.

Russia and Nicaragua are the only states to have recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent.

See also:

OSCE - Concerns over the detaining of unarmed monitors

RFE/RL - A Day in the Life of Russia's Collective Unconscious

No comments: