Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bilateral Relations: fanning the flames of fear in Georgian-Abkhaz dispute

Disinformation and misrepresentations is generating tensions between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides in their dispute and the communities on both sides of the ceasefire line should exercise restraint, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report to the Security Council.

While there has been no incident between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides in the past few months, there have been “a string of allegations concerning either the deployment of forces on both sides of the ceasefire line or incidents involving the Abkhaz forces or the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] peacekeeping force,” he writes in his latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.

He voices concern about the “disconnect” between realities on the ground and media or official statements. As it is, an “image of the enemy” is already pervasive among communities on both sides of the ceasefire line, he writes, warning that “Fanning fear and hostility through misrepresentation will only entrench it further.”

Reliable observers on both sides commented that the relationship between the two sides was last year at its lowest point since the widespread violence of 1998, according to the report.

“The two electoral campaigns that took place in 2007, for the Georgian presidency and the de facto Abkhaz parliament, illustrated once again the deep rift between the political aspirations of the sides and their constituencies, with reunification and independence seen as top, non-negotiable priorities in Tbilisi and Sukhumi, respectively, and promoted with an equal sense of urgency.”

Mr. Ban calls for confidence-building measures to be introduced, on areas including security dialogue, the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees and economic rehabilitation, so that momentum can be established towards a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict.

He notes that the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) is working towards this goal and is also hoping to improve its monitoring abilities in the Kodori Valley, where the difficult terrain and security risks make unmanned aerial vehicles the best option.

UNOMIG is developing standard operating procedures for the use of such vehicles so that there can be no possible misuse outside the mandate of the mission – an issue that has been raised, particularly by the Abkhaz side.

As of 1 January, UNOMIG had 133 military observers from 32 countries in place to verify the ceasefire agreement between the Georgian Government and the Abkhaz authorities.

Source: UN News Centre