UN Security Council extends observer mission in Georgia

By RIA Novosti,

United Nations : The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to extend the mandate of UN observers in Georgia, and called for talks to be resumed between the country and its breakaway region of Abkhazia.

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The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), established in 1993 to verify compliance with a ceasefire agreement between Tbilisi and Abkhazia following an armed conflict, has been extended for another six months until October 15.

The 15-member body called on both sides to consolidate and build on recent improvements in the overall security situation along the ceasefire line, and stressed the need for “a period of sustained stability” along the line and in the Kodori Valley, divided by the sides.

In its resolution passed on Tuesday, the council urged “all parties to consider and address seriously each other’s legitimate security concerns, to refrain from any acts of violence or provocation, including political action or rhetoric, and to comply fully with previous agreements regarding ceasefire and non-use of violence.”

It also called on both sides to finalize without delay documents on the non-use of violence, and on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

The unanimously approved resolution follows recommendations by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who assessed in his report the situation in the conflict zone as relatively stable.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Washington was deeply concerned by reports from Moscow that Russia is planning to set up semi-official representative missions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another separatist area in Georgia, without the approval of the Georgian government.

“We urge Russia not to follow this path, which would undercut Russia’s stated support for the principles of Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in the conflict zones since the end of hostilities, and the secessionist regions have relied on Moscow in their bids for independence. Although Russia repeatedly stated its respect for the principle of territorial integrity, claims from Moscow that Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a legitimate right to sovereignty have come to the fore since most Western countries recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence form Serbia.

Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said Khalilzad had entirely missed the real problem of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict and mentioned Georgian military activity in Abkhazia, including overflight jets in the security zone.

“Recently a Georgian drone was shot down in the airspace of the security zone, there is a buildup of the Georgian military,” Churkin said.

In response to criticism from the U.S. side of Russia’s move to lift 1996 trade restrictions against Abkhazia last month, Churkin said the decision had been motivated by new developments and aimed at improving the economic situation in Abkhazia, set down as one of the objectives of the resolution.

He said there could also be Russian commercial flights to Sukhumi.

The U.S. envoy hailed a power sharing initiative proposed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in late March to settle the conflict with Abkhazia. But Churkin said that despite being made public, the proposal was not made to the Abkhazian side.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been at their lowest since Western-leaning Saakashvili came to power in Georgia in 2004. Georgia’s bid to join NATO and Russia’s popularity in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been the bones of contention.