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EU monitors start patrolling

By Temuri Kiguradze
Thursday, October 2
The EU monitoring group in Georgia began its mission on October 1, with the first four patrol team vehicles entering territories near the conflict regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Each patrol team vehicle carries four unarmed EU monitors. Russian news agency RIA-Novosti states that the mission of the monitors is to observe the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory, to ensure the protection of public order and to control the return of refugees to their former places of residence. The Russian Government has stated that the monitors will not be allowed any further than the so-called “buffer zones” around Georgia’s breakaway territories, but despite this the Georgian media reports that EU vehicles have entered South Ossetia itself.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) operates in Georgia under an agreement between the European Union and the Russian Federation signed in Moscow on September 8. On the basis of this agreement more than 200 observers arrived in Tbilisi by September 29. The Head of the EU Foreign Service, Javier Solana, said that it had been “hard” for the EU to organize this mission in such a short time: however it had fulfilled its obligation, and the EU now waited for Russia to do the same and observe the terms of the paragraphs of the EU-Russia agreement which oblige it to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory by October 10. Solana said he feels “optimistic” that Russia will fulfill this obligation.

The EUMM will work in close cooperation with the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the OSCE Mission in Georgia. Over 200 monitors from 22 EU member states will conduct permanent patrols on the ground. The total international mission, including HQ staff, will number 352.The HQ is in Tbilisi, with regional field offices in Tbilisi/Bazaleti (96 monitors), Gori (70 monitors), Poti (30 monitors) and Zugdidi (70 monitors).The mission has a budget of Euro 35 million and is expected to remain in Georgia for at least one year.

On September 29 a group of Georgian MPs said that the arrival of the 200 European monitors was the first step in the internationalization of the conflict. They hoped that the international community would succeed in conducting monitoring not only around the conflict regions but also inside them. The Russian Government however has stated several times that Russia will not allow EU monitors to operate inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia. According to the agreement signed between the Russian Federation and the separatist regions, Russia has promised them economic and military support, which includes the construction of Russian military bases on their territory.

“We will do our best to create a peaceful and stable existence for the two new states, South Ossetia and Abkhazia – this is our obligation,” said Russian President Dimitry Medvedev at a televised medal ceremony in Moscow for Russian soldiers who had fought in the Georgian-Russian war. Medvedev described Russia’s actions in the conflict as “absolutely legal,” and stated that Moscow had no other choice than to respond strongly to “the aggressor,” meaning Georgia. Russian troops entered Georgia during the August conflict, pushing Georgian troops back, and this led to the occupation of a big slice of Georgian territory. Moscow termed its action the protection of the Ossetian population from “genocide.” However the international community condemned Russia’s actions.

“Not a single independently thinking person can talk about genocide in South Ossetia,” said Mattyas Eorsi, a member of a commission sent by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), during a recent briefing in Tbilisi. Eorsi said that the commission had collected evidence concerning the “ethnic cleansing” of ethnic Georgian residents of South Ossetia during the August events. Eorsi is one of the diplomats reporting to the current PACE session in Strasbourg, which is mainly dedicated to the August events in Georgia and will continue until October 4. Georgian Government figures expect the session will denounce Russia’s actions in Georgia.

Russian PACE delegates are denying that Russia bears any kind of responsibility for the August war. Their President Dmitry Medvedev has also expressed this position. “They [Russia’s actions] are in full compliance with international law and with our peacekeeping commitments. This cannot be said about the actions of the Tbilisi regime, which violated the previous agreements in the blink of an eye and led the region to the verge of catastrophe,” Medvedev said on October 1.