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Regional Tensions will intensify if UN and OSCE Missions leave Georgia

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Tbilisi/Brussels - Russian diplomatic pressure is dismantling the critical international conflict resolution machinery in Georgia, leaving the region facing a potentially explosive situation in which even a small incident could spark new fighting.

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''Georgia-Russia: Still Insecure and Dangerous'', the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation ten months after the August 2008 war and finds deep cause for concern. Moscow’s 15 June Security Council veto of an extension of the sixteen-year-old UN observer mission’s mandate in Georgia and Abkhazia and its apparent intention to require the removal of the mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by 30 June are blows to regional security that will fuel tensions.

“With both the UN and OSCE missions given the chop, there will be no independent observers around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and there will be no mechanism for ensuring that minor incidents don’t deteriorate into wider fighting”, says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director. “Russia’s actions have created a hugely hazardous atmosphere. Moscow needs to review its policy and work for a reasonable compromise allowing the UN and OSCE monitors to continue their important work”.

The Georgia-Russia war ended with ceasefire agreements that required an end to military action, a pull-back to pre-war positions and access for humanitarian and monitoring missions to conflict areas. But Russia has not complied with key aspects of the deal that President Dimitri Medvedev reached in August/September 2008 with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his then-EU presidency role. The security situation on the ground today remains tense. Neither side has engaged in meaningful negotiations to stabilise the region.

Russia says it is acting at the request of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which do not trust international observers. But Moscow has legal obligations to do more for the security and safety of local populations, regardless of ethnicity, and to prevent human rights abuses in areas that are in effect under its control. Most importantly, it must expand efforts to allow the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially the approximately 25,000 ethnic Georgians who have been unable to go back to their homes in South Ossetia.

Russia not only keeps excessive troop levels in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in contravention of the ceasefire agreements, but has also increased their numbers and fortified bases to demarcate, in effect, the administrative borders between Georgia and the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which it has recognised as independent states. Its policy of preventing international monitors access to those areas undermines stability and conflict resolution efforts. It should use its dominant influence to allow monitors access, facilitate IDP return and encourage South Ossetia and Abkhazia to engage in genuine negotiations with Tbilisi.

“If the UN and OSCE missions do indeed leave Georgia, as Russia seems to desire, it will deepen regional tensions”, says Alain Deletroz, Crisis Group’s Vice President for Europe. “Rather than prompt further instability, Moscow should take a responsible approach that encourages internationally recognised institutions of conflict prevention and resolution to work freely on the ground. Another war and another IDP crisis in the Caucasus are not in anyone’s interest”.

June 22, 2009

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