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Semneby Downplays Fears EU Is Reducing Presence In South Caucasus

WATCH: Peter Semneby speaks to RFE/RL's Armenian Service


YEREVAN -- Peter Semneby, who has served as the European Union's special representative to the South Caucasus since February 2006, is seeking to downplay fears in the region that the EU is looking to reduce its diplomatic presence in the region.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian Service in Yerevan, where he is currently completing a two-day tour, Semneby played down rumors of an EU initiative to reduce its embassies to a single European regional headquarters in Tbilisi.

"The European Union has just upgraded the commission delegations in all three capitals to full European Union representations," Semneby said. "All three countries are important partner countries of ours, in particular in a situation when we are taking a new and important step with the launching of negotiations of association agreements, and this clearly requires a presence in each country that is tailor-made to the needs and the situation of each individual country."

Semneby declined to comment on another proposal that likewise aims to scale back the EU's presence in the strategically important and politically volatile South Caucasus region -- the suggestion floated last month by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to abolish a number of EU special representative posts, including Semneby's.

The proposal, which is reportedly still being discussed, would significantly downgrade the EU's presence on the ground in the South Caucasus. Ashton's plan has raised alarm bells in the region, particularly in Georgia, which is still recovering from its 2008 war with Russia and sees the EU as a protective firewall between Tbilisi and Moscow.

Kalman Mizsei
Another EU special representative post marked for closure is that in Moldova, currently held by Kalman Mizsei. Semneby said he did not want to comment on "ongoing discussions about what the future European diplomatic representation will look like."

Semneby's visit to Yerevan comes just two days after the Armenian Defense Ministry said four Armenian soldiers were killed in fighting in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Reports said one Azerbaijani fighter was also killed in the fighting, which reportedly broke out near the Line of Contact that separates Azerbaijan proper from the ethnic Armenian territories of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The skirmish came the same day as the presidents of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan met on the sidelines of a St. Petersburg economic forum to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the South Caucasus three "frozen conflicts."

Semneby called the situation "deplorable" and said tensions must be reduced in order for all sides to come to a negotiated solution on the issue.

"It's not really acceptable that events like this take place," Semneby said. "And in addition here we have the unnecessary tragic loss of human lives. This incident demonstrates that there is a tense situation along the Line of Contact, that it can easily get out of hand, and that it's necessary to take whatever measures are available in order to lower tension and to build confidence."

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