The Security Council this afternoon approved the Secretary-General's proposal to increase the number of lightly armed international and local security personnel to help protect the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).
In a statement read out by its President, Peter Burleigh (United States), the Council strongly condemned the deliberate acts of violence against the personnel of UNOMIG and the peacekeeping forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). It demanded that the Georgian and Abkhaz sides take measures to stop such acts -- which subvert the peace process -- and ensure that the security environment for all international personnel improved significantly.
Expressing deep concern at the tense unstable situation in the Ghali and Zugdidi regions of Abkhazia, Georgia, and the threat of resumed hostilities, the Council also demanded that both sides strictly observe their obligations, refrain from using force and resolve disputed issues peacefully.
The Council welcomed the reinvigorated negotiations within the United Nations-led peace process, particularly the Athens meeting between the two sides in October and their increased bilateral contacts. It strongly urged them to widen their commitment to the peace process. The Council also strongly encouraged a meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the Abkhaz leader, Vladislav Ardzinba. Further, it encouraged both sides to reach agreements, particularly on the return of refugees, and the economic rehabilitation of Abkhazia, Georgia.
The meeting convened at 1:01 p.m. and adjourned at 1:05 p.m.
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The text of the presidential statement, which will be issued as S/PRST/1998/34, reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General concerning the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, of 29 October 1998 (S/1998/1012, and Add.1)
"The Security Council remains deeply concerned at the continuing tense and unstable situation in the Gali and Zugdidi regions and at the threat of resumption of serious hostilities. The Council demands that both sides observe strictly all their obligations to refrain from the use of force and to resolve disputed issues by peaceful means only.
"The Security Council welcomes the reinvigoration of the negotiations within the United Nations-led peace process. It particularly welcomes the meeting of both sides on confidence-building measures held in Athens on 16-18 October 1998, the largest and most representative meeting of the parties since the military confrontation of 1993, and the increased bilateral contacts between the two sides. The Council strongly urges the two sides to build on this momentum to widen their commitment to the United Nations-led peace process, to continue to intensify their discussion, in particular within the Coordinating Council, and to expand their relations at all levels. The Council also strongly encourages the parties to work together in order to convene a meeting between President of Georgia and Mr. Ardzinba and to reach agreements, in particular on the return of refugees and measures for the economic rehabilitation of Abkhazia, Georgia, as a concrete step towards easing tensions and leading to improvement in the security environment. The Council reiterates its call to both sides to display without delay the necessary will to achieve substantial results on the key issues of the negotiations, and calls upon them to implement promptly and in good faith their undertakings, so that living conditions for the population on both sides can be improved by practical confidence-building measures.
"The Security Council strongly condemns the deliberate acts of violence against the personnel of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States, including the continued laying of mines, which also endangers the civilian population and impedes the work of the humanitarian organizations. The Council demands that both sides take determined and prompt measures to put a stop to such acts, which subvert the peace process, and to ensure that the security environment of all international personnel improves significantly.
"The Security Council welcomes the efforts of the Secretary-General aimed at improving the security of UNOMIG, approves his proposal to increase
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the number of internationally recruited lightly armed security personnel and additional local security personnel to provide internal security to the Mission's installations, and requests the Secretary-General to keep the security of UNOMIG under constant review taking into account the observations contained in his report.
"The Security Council reminds both sides that the continued commitment of the international community to assist them depends on their progress in achieving peacefully a comprehensive political settlement."
Report of Secretary-General
When the Council met, it had before it the Secretary-General's report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia (document S/1998/1012 and Add.1).
The report describes the meeting on confidence-building measures between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides, convened near Athens from 16 to 18 October by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, as the largest and most representative gathering since the 1993 war. The fact that it took place was, in itself, an achievement, says the Secretary-General, since full-fledged hostilities nearly resumed several times during the year. Both sides agreed on measures to prevent renewed fighting, improve security and facilitate direct economic and commercial activity. They also held bilateral discussions on those issues and on the return of refugees and the economic rehabilitation of Abkhazia, Georgia. The Secretary-General appealed to them to implement the measures in good faith. He also encouraged them to expand relations to unblock the political stalemate on the two core problems, the political status of Abkhazia and the return of refugees and displaced persons.
On the humanitarian front, the report says the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Acción contra el Hambre and Médecins sans Frontières continue assistance to vulnerable civilians. However, in the Gali area, access to people who fled from Gali town after fighting broke out again in May is still impeded, because of renewed mine-laying and other activities. Vulnerable groups do not have material assistance for winter or protection by humanitarian agencies. The security of international personnel is declining and aid agencies have appealed to the Government of Georgia and the Abkhaz authorities to ensure assistance reaches civilians.
According to the report, the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which currently has a strength of 98 observers, is carrying out limited operational patrolling in the security and restricted weapons zones of the Gali and Zugdidi sectors and in the Kodori Valley. United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations frequently join UNOMIG escort patrols while travelling through the security and restricted weapons zones.
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The situation in the security and restricted weapons zones is tense and unstable with exchanges of fire across the ceasefire line that have, at times, threatened to escalate into serious hostilities, the report states. The campaign of mine attacks and ambushes by armed groups in the lower Gali district against the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping force and the Abkhaz militia has continued, though it has considerably diminished in recent weeks.
Despite the tension, people from the Gali district who fled to the other side of the Inguri River during the May fighting are trickling back home. Violations by both sides of the Moscow Agreement on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces of 14 May 1994 include persistent denial of access to the heavy weapons storage sites on both sides of the ceasefire line, the introduction of armoured vehicles and heavy weapons into the security and restricted weapons zones, restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNOMIG patrols and frequent visits by military personnel to the security zone.
In the Gali sector, the report continues, the Abkhaz militia have consolidated their control over the whole of the Gali district and established manned posts in all the principal villages, primarily along the ceasefire line. Discipline has improved, and reports of looting or poor behaviour have decreased markedly. The new head of administration in Gali is encouraging the population to return from the Zugdidi side of the ceasefire line and has taken positive steps to control the militia and deter armed robberies. Although the Abkhaz authorities assert that they have less than their authorized strength of armed personnel in the Gali district, the real figure may, in fact, be much higher.
The report says several incidents have directly endangered the safety and security of UNOMIG personnel. These include grenades thrown into the UNOMIG headquarters compound in Sukhumi on three occasions, two car hijackings and the ambush of a clearly marked UNOMIG bus in the centre of Sukhumi on 21 September. In the last attack, four United Nations staff members were injured, one seriously. Investigations by local authorities have not identified the perpetrators or established a motive for the attack.
A possible solution to UNOMIG's security problems, the Secretary-General says, is a self-protection unit to guard the Mission's static installations against attacks. However, such a unit could not have prevented either the Sukhumi ambush or the two car hijackings. Therefore, alternatives need to be considered. A significant increase in the number of internationally recruited security personnel could provide internal security to the Mission's installations, while local authorities would remain responsible for perimeter security. The Mission has eight internationally recruited security officers. Security for the Mission's mobile patrols will be enhanced by the arrival of an additional 25 ballistic-protected vehicles.
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The Secretary-General says UNOMIG's security situation is threatening its very viability. Unless the parties take urgent measures to improve the security environment for the United Nations, the Mission's strength may have to be reduced, and relocation of United Nations personnel and facilities to more secure locations will have to be considered.
Should UNOMIG be compelled to withdraw from Abkhazia, Georgia, the situation in the security and restricted weapons zones would almost certainly become more serious and a return to open hostilities could not be excluded, the Secretary-General says. Therefore, he urges Member States, and the members of the group of Friends of the Secretary-General -- France, Germany, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States -- to use their influence with the parties to ensure a significant improvement in the security environment. In the meantime, he says, the Council may wish to consider whether increasing substantially the number of internationally recruited security personnel to provide internal security to the Mission's installations might be a partial solution, while other alternatives are explored.
According to the addendum to the report, the estimated cost of 17 additional international security personnel, together with 37 local security personnel and related logistical requirements, for a period of six months would be approximately $1.5 million. Should the Council approve the Secretary-General's recommendation, he would seek additional resources from the General Assembly.
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