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No results from Georgian-Ossetian meeting

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, April 24
The only thing the sides have achieved was to agree to hold another meeting in the same format, stated the head of Georgian Internal Ministry’s analytical service Shota Utiashvili after a meeting with representatives of the de facto South Ossetian authorities on neutral territory on April 23.

The meeting was held near the Georgian village of Ergneti on the administrative border with South Ossetia. The EU monitoring mission [EUMM] and OSCE organized the negotiations which involved Utiashvili, Merab Chigoev, the Special Representatives of South Ossetia’s de facto President Eduard Kokoity and the Russian military command.

Hansjorg Haber, head of the EUMM in Georgia, stated that it is “too early to expect any concrete results right now.” “The most important thing is that dialogue has been started. Despite certain difficulties I am optimistic about these meetings, as we work in a constructive format,” said Haber after the meeting. The South Ossetian separatists were also optimistic. “We can call this meeting progressive despite the fact that no agreements were concluded,” noted Chigoev, adding that the negotiations were started from “a blank page” representing a “new format.”

The meetings on the border were agreed during the Geneva negotiations in February 2009. They are intended to be part of the “prevention mechanism” that should help investigate and ultimately prevent incidents like shootings, robberies and kidnappings, the number of which greatly increased after the August 2008 conflict.

“We need to resolve procedural issues before we start negotiating on the concrete issues that will enable the mechanism on incident prevention to work,” said Shota Utiashvili. He expressed his hope that the sides will start to work on relevant topics at their next meeting, scheduled for May. According to the South Ossetian side, the border meetings should be held twice a month with additional meetings also possible in the case of “extraordinary” events.

The negotiations in Geneva were envisaged in the EU-mediated ceasefire agreement signed by Georgia and Russia on August 15 2008. They include representatives from Georgia, Russia, both the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and international organizations. So far experts have made quite modest evaluations of these meetings, saying that the fact of the meeting is more important than the outcome.

Meanwhile border incidents continue. The latest happened on April 22, when both Tbilisi and Tskhinvali reported shooting had taken place at the administrative border. As usual each side accused the other of the starting the trouble. “Fire was opened in different directions from the South Ossetian territory occupied by Russian troops,” stated the Georgian Interior Ministry soon after the incident, adding that the attackers used automatic weapons. According to the Ministry the shooting was directed towards a Georgian police post in the Georgian village of Plavi. The South Ossetian so-called Press Committee however reported that the Georgian side “shot all night long” in the direction of the village of Otrevi, which is in the territory controlled by the separatist forces. “Automatic weapons were shot. The Ossetian side didn’t take part in this provocation and didn’t open responding fire,” said the South Ossetian de facto Deputy Defence Minister Ibragim Gasseev on April 22. No deaths or injuries were reported by either side.