The Security Council this morning requested the Secretary-General to consult both sides to the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia, on the possibility of providing the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) with a self-protection unit, in light of the conditions of high insecurity threatening the personal safety of unarmed United Nations military observers there.
In a statement read out by its President, Bonaya Godana, the Foreign Minister of Kenya, the Council also asked the Secretary-General to consult the parties on other options outlined in his report before it. The proposed unit and other options relate to his concern for the safety of unarmed UNOMIG personnel operating in an increasingly insecure region.
Those options include a reduction of UNOMIG personnel, a re-deployment of the Mission at its authorized strength and a resumption of previous operations using mine- and ballistic-protected vehicles, and strengthened security arrangements with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force. The Council also requested the Secretary-General to report to it no later than 12 June on the outcome of those consultations.
The Council expressed deep concern that the deteriorating security situation in the Gali region gravely impeded the work of aid workers, personnel of the UNOMIG and of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the CIS.
The parties to the conflict were called upon to take all measures to improve the security situation, including the creation of a joint mechanism for investigation and prevention of violations of the Moscow Agreement of 14 May 1994 on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces. They were also called upon to display the political will to achieve substantial results on key issues of the negotiations within the framework of the United Nations-led peace process and through direct dialogue.
The Council reaffirmed the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes in secure conditions, and it called upon both sides
to fulfil their obligations in that regard. Efforts undertaken by the CIS in support of returning refugees and of a comprehensive political settlement were welcome.
The meeting was called to order at 11:52 a.m. and adjourned at 11:57 a.m.
The full text of the statement, to be issued as document S/PRST/1998/16, reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General concerning the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, of 11 May 1998 (S/1998/375 and Add.1).
"The Security Council is gravely concerned by the recent outbreak of violence in the zone of conflict, which has resulted in the loss of human life and a significant outflow of refugees, and calls upon the parties to observe strictly the Moscow Agreement of 14 May 1994 on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces (S/1994/583, annex I) (the Moscow Agreement) and also the ceasefire protocol signed on 25 May 1998, as well as all their obligations to refrain from the use of force and to resolve disputed issues by peaceful means only.
"The Security Council is deeply concerned by the recent slowing of the peace process. The Council calls upon the parties to display the necessary political will to achieve substantial results on the key issues of the negotiations within the framework of the United Nations-led peace process and through direct dialogue, with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.
"The Security Council reaffirms the right of all refugees and displaced persons affected by the conflict to return to their homes in secure conditions, calls upon both sides to fulfil their obligations in this regard, and welcomes in this context the efforts undertaken by the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), as set out in document S/1998/372, in support of the return of refugees and of a comprehensive political settlement.
"The Security Council is deeply concerned that the deteriorating security situation in the Gali region gravely impedes the work of aid workers, personnel of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia and of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Council calls upon the parties to honour fully their commitments to take all measures in their power to improve the security situation, including the creation of a joint mechanism for investigation and prevention of acts that
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represent violations of the Moscow Agreement and terrorist acts in the zone of conflict.
"The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to consult both sides on the basis of paragraphs 26, 48 and 49 of his report, in particular on the concept of self-protection unit outlined therein, and on other options as appropriate, in close cooperation with the group of Friends of the Secretary-General, bearing in mind the need to secure the consent of both parties to the Secretary-General's proposal. The Council also requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the outcome of those consultations as soon as possible no later than 12 June 1998."
For its consideration of the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, the Council had before it a report of the Secretary-General (document S/1998/375 and Add.1), covering the period from 31 January to 30 April, in which he recommends the creation of a self-protection unit for the personnel and facilities of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).
Citing his concern for the safety of unarmed UNOMIG personnel who are operating in an increasingly insecure region, the Secretary-General states that the 294-strong self-protection unit would be deployed around the clock -- in three shifts of 11 officers -- to protect the four team bases in the Gali and Zugdidi sectors, the two sector headquarters and the main headquarters in Sukhumi. An additional 16 officers would constitute the command structure, and a further 47 would ensure logistic support. The unit would not undertake any patrolling. The military observers would continue to patrol unescorted, but they would only be authorized to do so in ballistic- or mine-protected vehicles.
In exceptional circumstances, the unit could provide assistance to the Mission's patrols, if deemed necessary by the Chief Military Observer, the report states. The unit could also provide protection to other United Nations agencies. The deployment of the protection unit would not relieve the parties of their responsibility to provide the Mission with adequate security, nor would the assistance currently provided by the CIS peacekeeping force cease to be required.
The Secretary-General estimates the costs of deploying the proposed self-protection unit, including civilian support personnel, at approximately $21.7 million for a period of 12 months. The Government of Georgia has welcomed the proposed unit and expressed its readiness to assist the Mission as necessary. The Abkhaz authorities, however, have expressed reservations. The Secretary-General's Special Representative is continuing to hold consultations with all concerned in order to ensure that an agreement can be
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reached on methods for protection, which would allow UNOMIG to resume its mandated activities.
Noting that the groundwork laid in the past few months should have permitted faster progress in the peace process, the Secretary-General regrets that a number of developments have slowed down the momentum. The normal operation of UNOMIG or the provision of humanitarian and other assistance continued to be hindered. The long blockade of the Inguri main bridge has also posed some problems.
Efforts to move the peace process forward have also been negatively affected by a new wave of tension in the area, marked by an assassination attempt on 9 February against the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, and deteriorating security conditions in the UNOMIG area of operations. In addition, the reporting period has seen widespread dissatisfaction among refugees and internally displaced persons in Georgia.
The UNOMIG's personnel and property continue to be subjected to acts of violence by criminal groups, the Secretary-General says. On 19 February, a group of 15 to 20 armed men forcibly entered the UNOMIG sector headquarters in Zugdidi, took four observers hostage and fled in one of the Mission's vehicles. A few hours later, at the request of the hostage-takers, the captured military observers conveyed by telephone several demands to their respective capitals. Those demands included: the holding of talks between the so-called "legitimate Government of Georgia" and the present Government; the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Georgia; and the release of political prisoners in Georgia. Following negotiations between the Georgian authorities and the hostage-takers, three of the captured observers were released between 22 and 25 February. The fourth managed to escape and was later found safe by the Mission.
Until the 19 February hostage-taking incident, UNOMIG continued to operate in the security and restricted weapons zones of the Zugdidi and Gali sectors and in the Kodori Valley and was able to implement its mandated tasks effectively. In the wake of that incident, all operational patrolling was suspended. Patrols are now conducted for administrative and escort purposes only along the main road crossing the sectors. While such patrols continue to be conducted in two vehicles at all times, they are now escorted by mine-protected vehicles when within the security and restricted weapons zones. As a result of these new limitations, UNOMIG now finds itself, for all practical purposes, unable to implement its mandated tasks effectively.
The Secretary-General states that both parties continue to violate the Moscow Agreement of 14 May 1994 on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces. During the period covered by the report, UNOMIG reported 14 violations by the Government of Georgia and eight by the Abkhaz side. Those violations involved
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incursions by individual unarmed servicemen into the security zone. Yet, several more substantive violations were observed when both sides brought armoured vehicles into the security and restricted weapons zones on a number of occasions. One of those vehicles, deployed by the Georgian Ministry of the Interior at the Zugdidi police station, had yet to be withdrawn. Since the cessation of its operational patrolling, UNOMIG has not been able to report on long-standing violations of the Moscow Agreement mentioned in previous reports.
If the Council did not wish to establish a self-protection unit, the Secretary-General also proposes three other options in the report: to reduce UNOMIG to the minimal possible presence, pending a significant improvement in the security situation; to redeploy UNOMIG at its authorized strength and resume previous operations using mine- and ballistic-protected vehicles; and to strengthen security arrangements with the CIS peacekeeping force.
Explaining the implications of each of the three approaches, the Secretary-General states that while the first would avoid placing the lives of the observers at risk, it would result in a situation where the Mission would be unable to implement its mandate. That could have significant repercussions on the peace process. The second option would continue to expose the observers to real and serious danger. The establishment of closer links with the CIS, as the third option entails, might have negative implications for the security of UNOMIG personnel. The role and nature of UNOMIG require that it be seen as fully independent.
Stressing the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes in the region, the Secretary-General cautions that violence should not be used to settle the refugee issue. Political dialogue, increased humanitarian aid and development assistance to the region would provide peaceful avenues to facilitate their return, he concludes.
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