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Abkhazia and South Ossetia object to satellite monitoring

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, November 17
The Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia downplayed the decision of the EU Monitoring Mission [EUMM] in Georgia to conduct monitoring of those regions via intelligence satellites on November 16.

On November 13 EUMM head Hansjorg Haber said that the EUMM will use European satellites to monitor Abkhazia and South Ossetia because the separatist authorities and Russian troops still refuse to let the monitors on the ground conduct direct observations in the conflict zones. However he underlined that the mission will continue to insist on the provision of access for full-scale monitoring. “Satellite pictures cannot tell you everything; they cannot entirely replace monitoring on the ground,” stated Haber, noting that “still it is better than nothing.” He added that the satellite monitoring would alert it to the movement of large quantities of military equipment and any construction work taking place in the breakaway regions.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia have stated that they have “nothing to hide” from the EU monitors. “We have no secret plans for an attack on Georgia. This initiative [the satellite monitoring] is yet another demonstration of the EU and some other countries’ position, it underlines their non-objectivity and incapability of evaluating the real situation in the region,” stated Sergey Shamba, the de facto Foreign Minister of Abkhazia. He also noted that the new form of monitoring will be used by the West to put pressure on Russia. “They [the West] want to transform this conflict from Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian to Georgian-Russian, as they want to have levers for exerting influence on Russia,” Shamba added. The other Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia, has stated that this initiative “encourages the Georgian authorities, who have not yet refused to countenance a possible resumption of military action.”

In its turn the Georgian Government welcomed the EUMM initiative and noted that this monitoring will serve to reduce the number of incidents in the regions near the conflict zones. “The recently increased number of kidnappings, railway and energy line explosions and other incidents should start to reduce [after the start of the monitoring],” stated Georgian State Minster on reintegration Issue Temur Iakobashvili. “EU monitoring is important, especially now, when the Russian military command is “discovering” Al-Qaeda terrorists or American missiles in Georgia. It’s important that the truth is proved not only by our [Georgian] statements but also by the EU mission. If there is any kind of threat from the occupied regions [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia], this also will be proved by observation,” Iakobashvili said.

Georgian political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili welcomes the EUMM new initiative, stating that it symbolises a “new epoch” in the Georgian conflict. “Now it will be quite easy to define who lies and who tells the truth,” he stated. The analyst also noted that “it’s quite hard to imagine that satellite monitoring of Georgian territory has not been conducted before, especially during the August war, however now it will be legitimised.”

Tsiskarishvili underlined that even if the observation of the conflict zones reduces the number of incidents taking place there it is unlikely to affect the international talks on the Georgian conflicts in Geneva. “These talks are doomed and nothing will make them effective, even if satellite pictures are broadcast on TV 24/7. The only way to improve them is to change their format and establish direct Georgian-Abkhazian, Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Russian negotiations,” concluded the expert, speaking to The Messenger on November 16.

The EUMM monitoring mission officially began working in Georgia on October 1 2008, soon after the August Russian-Georgian war. Since the Russian veto on the continuation of the mandates of the UN and OSCE missions in Georgia, which performed monitoring inside Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the EUMM has remained the last international organisation observing the situation in the regions close to the administrative border of the Georgian separatist territories. Despite the fact that the mandate of the EUMM includes Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the separatist Governments prohibit them from entering.