|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY GEORGIA
Georgian Ambassador Alexander Lomaia today accused the Russian Federation of using its position as a permanent member of the Security Council to pressure Secretariat officials into drastically altering the title and content of the Secretary-General’s latest report, which proposed a new security regime to help stabilize the Abkhazia region and ensure a “viable role” for the United Nations there.
During a Headquarters press conference, he also said Russia’s walkout last week of the latest round of United Nations-backed talks in Geneva between Caucasus parties, being brokered by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), had been an attempt by the Russian Federation to blackmail the world body and the wider international community.
“It is very unfortunate and alarming that the Secretariat has submitted to Russia’s blackmail,” Mr. Lomaia said, noting that the Secretary-General’s latest report on Georgia was due to have been transmitted to the Security Council on 15 May, but, after an “unexplained delay”, had been issued on 18 May. The Russian Federation had threatened to abandon the Geneva talks the day before the report came out, he said, stressing that Georgia was dismayed that the talks had been used to manipulate the tile and content of the document.
As issued, the “report of the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1808 (2008), 1839 (2008) and 1866 (2009)” (document S/2009/254), was drastically different from an earlier draft, he said, declaring: “Blackmailing of the international community should not be allowed in the future.”
[The report deals with the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which has a mandate to monitor the 1994 ceasefire ending the war in north-west Georgia that drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The Mission’s area of responsibility in the Abkhazia region consists of a security zone, where no military presence is permitted; a restricted weapons zone, where no heavy weapons can be introduced; and the Kodori valley.
In the report, the Secretary-General notes that, since the Security Council extended UNOMIG’s mandate in February, “the security situation in the Mission’s area of responsibility has remained fragile, with a continued threat of incidents, including from mines and improvised explosive devises.” A new security regime must ensure strict adherence to the ceasefire on land, at sea and in the air, as well as to the principle of the non-use of force. Further, restricted zones must extend for a further 12 kilometres on either side of the ceasefire line and no heavily military equipment must be allowed to enter. The new regime must also allow for regular United Nations patrol of the Kodori valley, and the world body’s personnel must be given security and full freedom of movement, the report adds.]
Calling the report a clear “step backwards”, Mr. Lomaia said it contained numerous negative developments along with some positive elements. He “noted with regret” that the report created grounds for an ill-designed mission that would be unable to adequately address challenges on the ground. The frame of the mandate and function of the mission, as prescribed by the Secretary-General, would not be conducive to the establishment of peace and order in Georgia’s occupied territory.
“We also understand that it is in Russia’s interest to have a weak, dysfunctional mission in Georgia, or not to have it at all,” he continued, noting that, earlier this month, the Russian Federation had rejected a compromise proposal that had effectively killed the OSCE presence in Georgia. With the Security Council expected to take action on the mission’s status sometime next month, he said UNOMIG must have, at the core of its mandate, the duty and capability to monitor implementation of the 12 August ceasefire, brokered by the European Union and signed by Presidents of the Russian Federation and Georgia. Further, Russian occupying forces must withdraw to the positions they held before 7 August.
He went on to say that, despite its disapproval of the report in general and its recommendations in particular, Georgia remained “fully motivated” to participate constructively with partners on the future presence of a United nations mission. Such an operation should have strong police and law enforcement capabilities and should be able to establish law and order in the occupied territories of Georgia. Its areas of responsibility should include a completely demilitarized Gali district, upper Abkhazia, as well as the Ochamchira region.
Georgia wanted to be able to endorse the Council resolution in mid-June and, to that end, he said it wished to see the mandate defined in such a way that it could serve the purpose of upholding the principles upon which the United Nations was founded, including that it could pave the way for all the citizens of Georgia, regardless of ethnicity, to live their lives in peace.
Reflecting on the statements made to the press by Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin following the Council’s closed-door consultations on Georgia earlier today, Mr. Lomaia said that Mr. Churkin had “continued his propaganda campaign” about Georgia building up troops and police units in areas adjacent to the occupied territories. “Does anybody believe these lies? We don’t think even the Russian Ambassador believes them,” Mr. Lomaia said.
He said that the Russian Federation’s allegations had never been verified by any source, including European Union monitors in the region and, at any rate, Georgia had always cooperated and provided unhindered access to any military facility. Further, since the early 1990s, the actions of the Russian Federation and its “puppet regimes” in the occupied territories had been branded “ethnic cleansing” by many esteemed organizations.
“We also call it ethnic fascism,” he said, adding that some 400,000 of the 550,000 ethnic Georgians in the Abkhazia region had either been killed or expelled. Those ethnic Georgians that had remained in the southern part of the region had been subjected to discrimination, killing, abduction, forced conscription and denial of education in their mother tongue.
Asked to be more specific about his accusations of blackmail, Mr. Lomaia, citing “very reliable sources”, said: “I’ll tell you what I know -- the Russians threatened to veto the forthcoming June resolution [on UNOMIG] unless the report was titled the way they wanted it.” When asked what he would have liked to have seen in the report, Mr. Lomaia said that, first and foremost, it had failed to note “the elephant in the room.”
Its fundamental flaw was that it failed to note that thousands of Russian occupying troops and tanks had been stationed in a part of the country in breach of international law. The report had also failed to note major human rights violations taking place in various parts of the Abkhazia region, including the cleansing of ethnic Georgians from upper Abkhazia. That had not been missed by other international organizations, such as Amnesty International, he added.
To other questions, he reiterated that reliable sources had told him that the title and some contents of the report differed drastically in the final version. He added that he had reason to believe that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent visit to the United Nations had been part of “Russian pressure on the Secretariat”. He said that United States President Barack Obama’s Administration had expressed “unwavering support” for the territorial integrity of Georgia. But, as for influence on the United Nations Secretariat, the Russian Federation was one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, so it was conceivable to expect it to use that leverage.
“We’ve seen it before and we’re seeing it again now,” he said. The Russian Federation continued to carryout its “clear and consistent” policy of intimidating its neighbours and gradually expanding its sphere of influence, instigating separatist movements and attacking principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity in its region.
On the Russian Federation’s opposition to Georgia’s participation in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercises, Mr. Lomaia said that such “Soviet-style propaganda” was so characteristic of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Georgia was a sovereign nation and entitled cooperate with, or participate in, any international organization it wished, including NATO. He added that Georgia would do its utmost to meet the same standards required of all European nations who were members of that alliance.
Responding to a question about the ongoing protests in the streets in and around Tiblisi by citizens groups demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, he said that ensuring freedom of expression was a core element of a democratic society and every segment of Georgian society was free to express thoughts and emotions as they wished. The Government’s primary responsibility was to ensure those rights were guaranteed. As for how widely those feeling were spread, he said recent polls had shown that the President’s approval rating had increased since the events of last August. He added that the promotion of a healthy democratic process was not very evident in the region, particularly by “our northern neighbour”.
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