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UN Security Council Extends Mission In Abkhazia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center), with South Ossetian and Abkhaz leaders Sergei Bagapsh (left) and Eduard Kokoity, has moved quickly to "normalize" diplomatic ties with both regions.
The UN Security Council has unanimously extended the mandate of its observer mission in Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia until June 15.

The 400-strong mission monitors a tense area along the border between Georgia and Abkhazia.

Diplomats at the UN say there were differences over the mandate but in the end all 15 members of the council supported it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said the Abkhaz separatist leadership will have a say in whether UN peace monitors continue to work there.

Georgia had said it will not accept any new mandate that it feels undermines its sovereignty.

A showdown between supporters of Georgia, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, appears to have been avoided in large part because Abkhazia's separatist authorities clearly indicated they would accept extension of the mandate.

Russia's UN permanent representative, Vitaly Churkin, said the adoption of the resolution was a positive development because it welcomed the "Medvedev-Sarkozy" peace plan for Georgia, which was hammered out in shuttle diplomacy among the presidents of Russia, France, and Georgia in August and September 2008.

Churkin emphasized another element of the resolution: the appeal for non-use of force that Georgia had so far refused to accept.

"This is a fundamental issue," Churkin said. "Georgia is continuing to refuse to sign legally binding agreements with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the non-use of force, and this is an important destabilizing element on the situation in the area."

Churkin noted that while it might appear that the extension of the mission's mandate was only a technical issue, it was "much more" than that because it indicated that negotiations would continue and would take into account the developments on the ground.

In August, Russia recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, weeks after a brief but intense conflict in which Russian troops entered the breakaway regions and occupied swaths of Georgian territory.

Georgia's permanent UN representative, Alexander Lomaya, also welcomed the extension of the UN mission's mandate in Abkhazia. He described the UN presence there as an "interim technical solution." Speaking to reporters after the adoption of the resolution, Lomaya emphasized the temporary nature of the resolution and denounced Russia's intention to establish military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"We highly appreciate that the resolution has been adopted but we also understand that the resolution was of interim nature," Lomaya said, "and we are looking forward to closely cooperate with our Friends [of Georgia] as well as with the UN to come up with the multidimensional, comprehensive formula that would ensure the return of IDP's and displaced persons to their homes and that would ensure peace and stability in the whole territory of Georgia."

The five permanent members on the council agreed with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's assessment that the military conflict and Moscow's recognition of both, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, changed the context in which the UN mission in Georgia has operated for the last 14 years.

Britain's UN Permanent Representative John Sawers said after the vote that it is apparent that a more durable arrangement that reflects the situation on the ground should be found.

"The resolution sets out its support for the Geneva process which, as others have said to you [reporters] the Geneva process is engaged [toward] looking ahead for future arrangements including future security arrangements," Sawers said. "This resolution extends UNMIG for four moths and we want to use the four months coming up in order to find a more durable arrangement that reflects the situation on the ground and the needs of the people on the ground."

Sawers said another important element of the resolution was the appeal to all parties to abstain from intrusions within the defined security zones between Georgia and Abkhazia and to support all humanitarian and relief efforts there.