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Talks in the conflict zone disrupted

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, May 8
It was confirmed by both the South Ossetian and central Georgian authorities yesterday that the scheduled May 7 meeting between representatives of the Georgian Government, the South Ossetian separatist authorities and Russian troops, mediated by EU, had been cancelled.

Both sides of the conflict blamed each other for the failure to hold the meeting, which was part of the incident prevention mechanism agreed at the Geneva talks in February. Spokesperson for the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs Shota Utiashvili stated that the meeting was cancelled because the South Ossetian and Russian sides demanded a change of location at the last minute. “The meeting should have been conducted in [the Georgian village of] Tirdznisi, and all sides were aware of this and agreed to it, however at the last moment they [representatives of the Russian Army and South Ossetian de facto authorities] demanded a change. Of course it was impossible to prepare the meeting in another location in such a short period,” stated Utiashvili speaking to The Messenger on May 7.

The South Ossetian side stated that the meeting was cancelled because Georgia “insisted on conducting of the meeting outside the territory of South Ossetia” and accused the EU as mediator of being incapable of solving this problem. “We sent a letter to [head of the European Union Monitoring Mission] Haber which stated that we insist that these meetings should be conducted only in the zone close to South Ossetia, which means in the village of Ergneti. Yesterday Haber answered saying that the meeting had been postponed. Today they are proposing Tirdznisi, tomorrow it will be Karaleti, the day after tomorrow Gori and after a month Tbilisi. We will not agree to this of course,” stated Boris Chochiev, so-called representative of the de facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity.

The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), which monitors the fulfilment of the EU-mediated ceasefire agreement signed in August 2008 which ended the five-day Russian-Georgian war, declared that the organization was “disappointed” with the cancellation of the meeting. “We very much hope that this meeting can be held in the near future,” says a special statement published by the organization on Thursday.

The same EU statement also addressed the comments of several high-ranking Georgian officials concerning the increase of the Russian military presence in the conflict zones. “We have received various assurances from the Russian forces about the nature of their recent additional deployments, but we need to have a greater exchange of information about these activities and the possibility to monitor what is happening on the other side of the administrative boundary lines. The best way to reduce tension on all sides is to be able to discuss these and related issues under the Geneva agreed Incident Prevention Mechanism. It is disappointing that we have had to adjourn the meeting planned for today as one side changed its position on a suitable location as expressed during the initial meeting on 23 April,” states the EUMM.

The May 7 meeting in Tirdznisi should have been the second round of incident prevention mechanism-mandated negotiations. The first round was held near Ergneti on April 23. It was announced in Ergneti that this kind of meeting should be conducted “at least twice a month.” The date of the next meeting is yet to be set.