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Tensions Along Disputed Georgia-South Ossetia Boundary Lead To Calls For Restraint

Georgia's wooden observation post is near the town of Chorchana, 110 kilometers northwest of Tbilisi.
Georgia's wooden observation post is near the town of Chorchana, 110 kilometers northwest of Tbilisi.

TBILISI -- The international community sought to defuse rising tensions between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia, as Tbilisi said it had observed a "mobilization of military equipment and personnel" in the separatist region after an ultimatum issued by the Russia-backed territory expired.

The United States, Russia, and the European Union all called on the two sides to exercise restraint after a South Ossetian demand that Georgia dismantle a wooden observation post by the morning of August 30 went unmet.

The three international powers also urged Georgia and South Ossetia to abide by the mechanisms set up to settle disputes after Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August 2008 that resulted in Moscow maintaining a strong military presence in South Ossetia.

"The United States is monitoring reports of military buildup near the administrative boundary line (ABL) of the Russian-occupied Georgian region of South Ossetia," the U.S. State Department said in an August 30 statement.

"We call on all sides to avoid escalation and work through the European Monitoring Mission hotline and the Geneva International Discussion Co-Chairs to resolve the situation. Further, we call on the Russian Federation to utilize all available channels to prevent further escalation of the situation along the ABL."

Georgia warned on August 30 of the risk of a "serious confrontation" with its separatist northern territory after South Ossetia demanded that Tbilisi remove the observation post near the town of Chorchana, less than 3 kilometers from the disputed boundary and 110 kilometers northwest of Tbilisi.

"If this condition is not met, the [de facto] government [of South Ossetia] will take all legal measures to ensure security of the South Ossetian people and protect the state border," South Ossetia's Igor Kochiyev said during an August 29 meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which is mediated by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).


In televised remarks, IPRM delegate Kochiyev reportedly issued the ultimatum that the observation post be dismantled by 6 a.m. local time on August 30.

After that ultimatum passed, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mari Narchemashvili told AFP that Georgia had observed the "mobilization of military equipment and personnel" on the South Ossetian side, and that the situation risked "serious confrontation" with the Russia-backed territory.

The comment came after the de facto president of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, announced that the self-declared republic's security committee had ordered the construction of a checkpoint near the South Ossetian village of Tsnelisi, located about 3 kilometers northeast of Chorchana.

Bibilov said the decision to use force "must always come as a last resort," according to Russia's state-run news agency TASS. "We think that Georgia's leadership will understand the importance of the situation and will do everything to defuse the instability that established itself due to the steps they have made."

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia said in a Facebook post on August 30 that its monitors were maintaining "a 24-hour presence" along the disputed boundary in the vicinity of Chorchana and Tsnelisi area, "with a view to monitoring the situation and reduce tensions."

In an early morning tweet on August 30, Carl Hartzell, the EU's ambassador to Georgia, said the "confrontational language" used in the previous day's IPRM meeting was "unacceptable."

"We expect all sides to show maximum restraint and use their influence to ensure [the] situation doesn't escalate," he added.

The OSCE, meanwhile, said the "recent developments along the administrative boundary line had negatively impacted the overall security situation."

Russia, which backed Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abhkazia in its brief but bloody war with Georgia in August 2008, accused Tbilisi of initiating the dispute.

In a statement posted on its website on August 30, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed "serious concern about the escalation of the tensions on the South Ossetian-Georgian border provoked by the construction of a Georgian police post near the South Ossetian village of Tsnelisi."

The ministry called on both parties "to show restraint and continue constructive discussion of disputes using the Incident Prevention and Reaction Mechanism and the Geneva discussions on security and stability in the Southern Caucasus."

Russia recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states following its 2008 war with Georgia. Only a few countries followed Russia's lead. Moscow keeps troops in both regions in what Georgia considers an occupation.

With reporting by AFP and TASS