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Abkhazia Seeks Continued Cooperation With UN

Sergei Bagapsh said Abkhazia was in favor of extending the UN mission's mandate.
Sergei Bagapsh said Abkhazia was in favor of extending the UN mission's mandate.
Following Russia's June 15 veto of a UN Security Council draft resolution that would have extended temporarily the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh told a June 16 meeting of the republic's Security Council that Abkhazia will try to establish "alternative contacts" with the UN.

Bagapsh said that Abkhazia was in favor of extending UNOMIG's mandate, but considered the wording of the draft resolution unacceptable. The document referred explicitly to an earlier UN Security Council resolution (1808) affirming support for Georgia's territorial integrity.

It was that wording that Russia adduced as its rationale for vetoing the extension of UNOMIG's mandate. But in a statement carried on June 17 by Caucasus Press, the other four countries that (together with Russia) constitute the Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia group Britain, France, Germany, and the United States) pointed out that Russia did not veto two earlier UN Security Council resolutions that referred to Security Council Resolution 1808.

Also on June 16, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba met in Sukhumi with UNOMIG deputy head Joseph Stefanidis to discuss the process of winding up UNOMIG's operations. That process, which began on June 16, could last between three and six months, Shamba said.

Shamba thanked Stefanidis for UNOMIG's work over the past 16 years, noting that its members served as a "buffer" to preclude "provocations" by Georgia. By contrast, the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" on June 17 quoted an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry official as downplaying UNOMIG's stabilizing role. He predicted that the withdrawal of the mission will not have a negative impact on the region.

Shamba also recalled that four UNOMIG members were killed in the fall of 2001 when their helicopter was shot down in the Kodori Gorge. Shamba laid the blame for that still-unclarified incident squarely on Georgia.

Shamba dismissed as "illusions" Georgian hopes that European Union observers will automatically be deployed to Abkhazia to take over from UNOMIG. The September 2008 addenda to the EU-mediated cease-fire agreement signed between Russia and Georgia one month earlier envisaged the deployment in Georgia of a 200-person EU monitoring mission, but the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have consistently warned that they will not allow those EU monitors to enter their territory.

Shamba reiterated on June 16 that in light of the EU's affirmation that it will never recognize Abkhazia as an independent state and its pressure on those countries that are considering doing so, the Abkhaz leadership will never agree to the presence of EU observers on Abkhaz territory. "Our border with Georgia is firmly sealed, and no EU observer will ever enter our territory contrary to our wishes," quoted him as saying.

"Vremya novostei" on June 17 quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry statement as describing the EU monitoring mission as a "serious deterrent," and as expressing readiness to intensify cooperation with its members with the aim of preventing "incidents."

Shamba told journalists after his talks with Stefanidis that he will travel to Moscow next week to discuss whether Abkhazia should continue to participate in the Geneva talks on optimum security arrangements. The next round of those talks, which are mediated jointly by Russia, the United States, the EU, and the UN, is provisionally scheduled for July 1.

In Tbilisi, Shota Malashkhia, who heads the Georgian parliament Temporary Commission for the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity, said on June 17 that the UN statutes provide for overriding the Russian veto, which Georgia will try to do.

Meanwhile, the chief of the Russian armed forces General Staff, Colonel General Nikolai Makarov, told RIA Novosti on June 17 that Russia will station at its military bases in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia fewer than the 3,700 servicemen initially planned. He did not, however, specify the precise number of troops that will serve in each republic.

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