The Security Council this afternoon reiterated its demand that both sides to the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia, widen their commitment to the United Nations-led peace process and underlined the need for an early and comprehensive political settlement, which included a settlement on the political status of Abkhazia within the State of Georgia, which fully respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.
In a statement read out by its President, Denis Dangue Rewaka (Gabon), the Council further demanded that both sides ensure a full separation of forces from the ceasefire line, in accordance with the ceasefire protocol signed on 25 May 1998, and establish a joint investigation mechanism without further delay.
The Council also demanded that both sides put a stop to the activities of armed groups -- including the continued laying of mines -- and establish a climate of confidence allowing refugees and displaced persons to return. In that connection, it expressed its deep concern at the failure of the parties to reach an agreement on the terms for the return of refugees and displaced persons to the Gali region and measures for economic rehabilitation. It stressed the need for them to conclude urgently such an agreement, thereby enabling the international community to participate in that effort, as well as an agreement on peace and guarantees for the prevention of armed confrontation.
Further, the Council reaffirmed the unacceptability of the demographic changes resulting from the conflict and the imprescriptible right of all refugees and displaced persons affected by the conflict to return to their homes in secure conditions. It called upon the parties to address that issue urgently by agreeing and implementing effective measures to guarantee the security of those who exercised their unconditional right to return.
The meeting convened at 12:07 p.m. and adjourned at 12:16 p.m.
The full text of presidential statement S/PRST/1999/11 reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General concerning the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, of 21 April 1999 (S/1999/460).
"The Security Council reiterates its demand that both sides widen their commitment to the United Nations-led peace process, continue to seek and engage in dialogue, expand their bilateral contacts and display without delay the necessary will to achieve substantial results on the key issues of the negotiations, and underlines the necessity for the parties to achieve an early and comprehensive political settlement, which includes a settlement on the political status of Abkhazia within the State of Georgia, which fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.
"The Security Council reaffirms the unacceptability of the demographic changes resulting from the conflict and the imprescriptible right of all refugees and displaced persons affected by the conflict to return to their homes in secure conditions.
"The Security Council welcomes in this context the decision of the Council of Heads of State of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) of 2 April 1999 on further measures to settle the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia (S/1999/392). The Council notes the conclusions of the eighth session of the Coordinating Council of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides held on 29 April 1999.
"The Security Council expresses its deep concern at the failure of the parties to reach an agreement on the terms for the return of refugees and displaced persons to the Gali region and measures for economic rehabilitation. The Council stresses the need for them to conclude urgently such an agreement, which would make it possible for the international community to participate in this effort, as well as an agreement on peace and guarantees for the prevention of armed confrontation.
"The Security Council welcomes the improvements in the security situation but notes that the general situation in the conflict zone still remains tense and unstable.
"The Security Council urges the parties to exercise great restraint in their responses to any incidents arising on the ground and to take concrete steps to improve their cooperation in this field. The Council demands that both sides take immediate and determined measures to put a stop to the
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activities by armed groups, including the continued laying of mines, and to establish a climate of confidence allowing refugees and displaced persons to return. The Council further demands that both sides ensure a full separation of forces from the ceasefire line, in accordance with the ceasefire protocol signed on 25 May 1998, and establish a joint investigation mechanism without further delay.
"The Security Council welcomes the continued contribution that the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the CIS (CIS Peacekeeping Force) have made to stabilizing the situation in the zone of conflict and notes that the working relationship between UNOMIG and the CIS Peacekeeping Force has remained good.
"The Security Council reaffirms the importance it attaches to the security of UNOMIG and of all international personnel and recalls the obligations of both sides in this regard. The Council welcomes the steps taken to enhance UNOMIG operations and security.
"The Security Council strongly supports the sustained efforts made by the Secretary-General and his Special Representative with the assistance of the Russian Federation in its capacity as facilitator as well as of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to prevent hostilities, to protect human rights, and advance a settlement."
Report of Secretary-General
When the Security Council met, it had before it the report of the Secretary-General dated 21 April (document S/1999/460), in response to the Council's request that he report on the situation three months after the decision on 28 January to extend the mandate of UNOMIG for six months. The report provides an update on the situation as at mid-April 1999.
The UNOMIG was established in August 1994 to verify compliance with a ceasefire agreement in the Abkhazia region of Georgia, which is located on the Black Sea in the north-west part of the country. The relations between the Abkhaz and Georgians have been tense for decades, with armed confrontations resulting from attempts by Abkhazia to separate. Years of sporadic fighting with reports of ethnic cleansing and numerous human rights violations by both sides, as well as non-compliance with ceasefire agreements, resulted in UNOMIG remaining active.
In his report, the Secretary-General finds that the failure to reach agreement in January on the terms for the return of refugees and displaced persons to the Gali district and measures for the economic rehabilitation of Abkhazia meant that a valuable opportunity was missed to take a major step
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forward in the peace process. As previously noted, the return of refugees and displaced persons is a humanitarian priority, and their right to return home, in conditions of full security, is imprescriptible, he says.
The time for bargaining over formulations has long since passed, the Secretary-General asserts. Rather, each side must demonstrate the necessary political will to conclude an agreement that would make it possible for the international community to participate in that effort. Pending such an agreement, direct bilateral contacts between the parties should continue, not only at the level of the Coordinating Council -- which contains representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz parties -- but also in the spheres of economic projects and confidence-building measures.
The report finds that over the past three months, it has taken all the diligence of the military and political staff of UNOMIG to preserve, and indeed slightly improve upon, the lessening of tension in the Mission's area of responsibility which had resulted from the 21 December 1998 meeting in Gali. Again, no incident has been targeted at UNOMIG's staff. Because of the continuing mine threat and criminal and terrorist activities, however, the situation is not yet such that the operational restrictions imposed on the Mission in February 1998 can be lifted, or that some or all of the team bases can be reopened.
While UNOMIG is able, within the present operational constraints, to monitor satisfactorily the two sides' compliance with the Moscow Agreement of 1994, it can only in a very limited way by its presence in the area, contribute to conditions conducive to the safe and orderly return of refugees and displaced persons, the report states. An improved security situation, based on tangible measures by the two sides, will be required before UNOMIG is able to return to its pre-February 1998 operational pattern and in that way increase its presence in all parts of its area of responsibility. Only then will UNOMIG be able to fully implement the mandate entrusted to it by the Security Council.
In addition to measures to stabilize the security environment, the report finds that two specific actions by the parties would significantly improve the situation on the ground: the full separation of forces from the ceasefire line; and the establishment of a joint investigation mechanism. The withdrawal of forces from some areas along the ceasefire line has reduced tensions noticeably. The parties need to follow up on this development with more determination, so that all remaining positions are withdrawn and the separation of forces is completed, as agreed in the Gagra Protocol of May 1998.
The report further states that final agreement on a mechanism for the joint investigation of violations of the Moscow Agreement and other incidents of violence will not only foster greater mutual confidence among the parties and greater respect for their mutual undertakings, but also discourage acts of violence and thus improve the general security environment.
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