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EU Rejects Russian, South Ossetian Claims Of Georgian Border Attacks

EU observers have been in place for two weeks.
EU monitors say they have found little evidence to support Russian and South Ossetian allegations of Georgian attacks against border outposts in the separatist region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on October 24 that the EU observer mission needed to be more pro-active in preventing what he called "provocative actions." Likewise, South Ossetia has accused the mission of being "blind, mute, and deaf" to alleged attacks by Georgian police forces in the area.

But speaking at a press conference in Brussels on October 24, EU mission head Hansjoerg Haber said there was scant evidence to back up the claims, which Tbilisi also denies.

"In general, the observation is that such reports [of shooting incidents] are overblown, and there may have been isolated shootings, but no major incident has been registered," Haber said. "We are actually pleasantly surprised about the evolution of the security situation in the adjacent areas."

The EU mission, which consists of approximately 200 unarmed observers, was deployed in Georgia on October 1 as part of a French-brokered cease-fire agreement.

Haber also challenged South Ossetia to grant the mission access to the breakaway region if officials in Tskhinvali want the allegations investigated further.

"I have heard, of course, the complaints of the South Ossetians, but they should give us the names, they should give us the places, and they should give us the time," Haber said, "and we are pleased to come over to their side of the administrative boundary and inspect what has happened there, ask questions to witnesses, and then report objectively and according to the highest standards."

Russian Allegations Denied

Moscow has also alleged that Georgia was moving heavily armed "special forces" into the buffer zones surrounding South Ossetia since Russia withdrew its forces from most of them on October 8. Haber also disputed this claim, saying that Georgia has only moved lightly armed police units into the areas.

"The Georgian special forces are not what the Russians understand under special forces. They are much lighter armed. They are not traveling in armored vehicles," Haber said.

"They have no heavy armament, and it is police units, which we believe they need to restore law and order in the adjacent territories, and we think the numbers they have deployed are commensurate and adequate to do just that job."

Armed conflict erupted between the two countries in August when Georgia tried to forcibly retake the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s.

Russia counterattacked into Georgia on August 7-8, overwhelming Georgian forces and drawing condemnation from the West. Russian forces pulled back into South Ossetia on October 8 as part of a cease-fire brokered by the European Union.

Despite Russia's pullout from Georgia proper, Moscow says it plans to keep 3,800 troops in each South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another pro-Moscow separatist region. Before the conflict it had 3,000 peacekeepers in Abkhazia and 500 in South Ossetia.

Haber said communications with the Russian side has been difficult, "because they are now just in the process of exchanging their peace[keeping] troops for regular troops, and we don't have, literally, any telephone number on their side, so far. We've been asking for it, and I will ask for it again in this framework. But we don't have it at the moment."

compiled from agency reports