SECURITY COUNCIL REGRETS LACK OF VISIBLE PROGRESS ON SETTLEMENT OF SITUATION IN ABKHAZIA, GEORGIA, DESPITE STRENUOUS EFFORTS TO REACTIVATE PEACE PROCESS

6 November 1997
SC/6440

SECURITY COUNCIL REGRETS LACK OF VISIBLE PROGRESS ON SETTLEMENT OF SITUATION IN ABKHAZIA, GEORGIA, DESPITE STRENUOUS EFFORTS TO REACTIVATE PEACE PROCESS

6 November 1997

Press ReleaseSC/6440

SECURITY COUNCIL REGRETS LACK OF VISIBLE PROGRESS ON SETTLEMENT OF SITUATION IN ABKHAZIA, GEORGIA, DESPITE STRENUOUS EFFORTS TO REACTIVATE PEACE PROCESS

19971106

Presidential Statement Welcomes Intention To Resume High-Level Meeting on Conflict in Geneva on 17 November

The Security Council this afternoon expressed its regret that despite strenuous efforts to reactivate the peace process in Abkhazia, Georgia, there had been no visible progress on the key issues of the future political status of Abkhazia and the permanent return of refugees and displaced persons.

In a statement read out by its President, Qin Huasun (China), the Council, expressing regret that the adjourned high-level meeting on the conflict in Geneva under the aegis of the United Nations had not resumed in October as initially planned, welcomed the intention of the Secretary- General's Special Representative to resume the meeting on 17 November to map out the area where concrete political progress could be made, to take forward discussions of social and economic issues in support of a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, and to address the issue of return of refugees. All concerned were called upon to do their utmost for the resumption of that meeting with the constructive engagement in particular of the Abkhaz side.

Strongly condemning the kidnapping of personnel of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) also serving in the region, the Council said it remained deeply concerned at the continuing unstable and tense conditions in the Gali and Zugdidi sectors and in the Kodori valley. Concern was expressed at the continued violation of the Moscow Agreement of 14 May 1994 on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces and the parties were called upon to ensure the full implementation of that agreement.

Welcoming the good cooperation between the United Nations and the CIS operations, including their efforts to promote stabilization of the situation in the zone of conflict, the Council welcomed the decision taken by the Council of heads of States of the CIS to extend the mandate of their force until 31 January 1998.

Also in the statement, the Council condemned the continued laying of mines, including mines of more sophisticated types, and called upon the parties to take all measures to prevent mine-laying and intensified activities

by armed groups. The parties were called upon to cooperate fully with UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force in order to honour their commitments to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of all their personnel and those of international humanitarian organizations. The Council expressed its support for additional measures envisaged by the Secretary-General to improve the safety of UNOMIG personnel.

Attaching particular importance to the more active role of the United Nations in the peace process, the Council encouraged the Secretary-General to continue his efforts to that end, with the assistance of the Russian Federation as facilitator, and with the support of the group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Georgia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Council further encouraged the Secretary-General to take steps, in cooperation with the parties, to ensure a prompt and safe return of the refugees and displaced persons to their homes, with the assistance of all relevant international organizations.

The statement concludes by reminding the parties that the ability of the international community to assist them depends on their political will to resolve the conflict through dialogue and mutual accommodation.

The meeting, which began at 12:32 p.m., was adjourned at 12:42 p.m.

Presidential Statement

The full text of the statement, which will be issued as document S/PRST/1997/50, reads as follows:

"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General concerning the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, of 28 October 1997 (S/1997/827).

"The Security Council regrets that, despite strenuous efforts to reactivate the peace process, there has been no visible progress on the key issues of the settlement -- the future political status of Abkhazia and the permanent return of refugees and displaced persons.

"The Security Council attaches particular importance to the more active role of the United Nations in the peace process, and encourages the Secretary- General to continue his efforts to that end, with the assistance of the Russian Federation as facilitator, and with the support of the group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Georgia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Council calls upon the parties to cooperate fully with these efforts.

"In this context, the Security Council regrets that the adjourned high-level meeting on the conflict in Geneva under the aegis of the United Nations did not resume in October as initially planned. It welcomes the

Security Council - 3 - Press Release SC/6440 3830th Meeting (PM) 6 November 1997

intention of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to resume this meeting on 17 November to map out the areas where concrete political progress could be made, to take forward discussion of social and economic issues in support of a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, and to address the issue of return of refugees. The Council calls upon all concerned to do their utmost for the resumption of this meeting with the constructive engagement in particular of the Abkhaz side.

"The Security Council commends the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Special Representative aimed at achieving a comprehensive settlement of the conflict, including on the political status of Abkhazia within the State of Georgia, respecting fully the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, and the efforts undertaken by the Russian Federation as facilitator, in particular the initiative put forward by the President of the Russian Federation on 1 August 1997 and the Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations held in Sukhumi on 9 and 10 September with the participation of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. The Council welcomes the meeting of the President of Georgia and Mr. Ardzinba in Tbilisi on 14 August 1997 facilitated by the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, and the continuation of direct dialogue between the parties and calls upon them to intensify the search for a peaceful solution by further expanding their contacts.

"The Security Council further encourages the Secretary-General to take such steps as are necessary, in cooperation with the parties, to ensure a prompt and safe return of the refugees and displaced persons to their homes, with the assistance of all relevant international organizations.

"The Security Council welcomes the decision of the Council of Heads of State of the Commonwealth of Independent States mentioned in the report to extend the mandate of the Collective Peacekeeping Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS peacekeeping force) until 31 January 1998.

"The Security Council welcomes the good cooperation between the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the CIS peacekeeping force and their efforts to promote stabilization of the situation in the zone of conflict. The Council calls upon the parties to cooperate fully with UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force.

"The Security Council remains deeply concerned at the continuing unstable and tense security conditions in the Gali and Zugdidi sectors and in the Kodori valley. The Council strongly condemns the kidnapping of personnel of UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force.

"The Security Council also condemns the continued laying of mines, including more sophisticated types of mines, which has already caused several deaths and injuries among the civilian population and the peacekeepers and observers of the international community. It calls upon the parties to take

Security Council - 4 - Press Release SC/6440 3830th Meeting (PM) 6 November 1997

all measures in their power to prevent mine-laying and intensified activities by armed groups and to cooperate fully with UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force in order to honour their commitments to ensure the safety and the freedom of movement of all personnel of the United Nations, the CIS peacekeeping force and international humanitarian organizations.

"The Security Council supports the additional measures envisaged by the Secretary-General in the report to improve the safety of UNOMIG personnel and to create conditions for the effective performance of its mandate.

"The Security Council expresses concern at the continuing violations of the Moscow Agreement of 14 May 1994 on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces (S/1994/583, annex I) and calls upon the parties to ensure the full implementation of this agreement.

"The Security Council welcomes the continued efforts by the United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations to address the urgent needs of those suffering most from the consequences of the conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia, in particular internally displaced persons, encourages further contributions to that end, and reiterates its encouragement to States to contribute to the voluntary fund in support of the implementation of the Moscow Agreement and/or for humanitarian aspects including demining, as specified by donor.

"The Security Council reminds the parties that the ability of the international community to assist them depends on their political will to resolve the conflict through dialogue and mutual accommodation."

Report of Secretary-General

For its review of the operations of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), the Security Council had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia (document S/1997/827).

The Secretary-General reports that both sides to the conflict continued to violate the Moscow Agreement of 14 May on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces, and that the situation in restricted weapons and security zones remains unsettled and tense. Although violations have been protested repeatedly on the spot and often at the highest level, long-standing violations by both sides continued and, of late, were more frequent. Also, criminal activities against the local population and international personnel continued.

Armed groups have increased their activities in the restricted weapons zones and in areas beyond the UNOMIG area of responsibility, which the Secretary-General reports as a significant change from their usual operational pattern. Such groups have continued to use mines and appeared to have acquired weapons equipped with night vision capability.

Security Council - 5 - Press Release SC/6440 3830th Meeting (PM) 6 November 1997

The Secretary-General also reports that personnel both of UNOMIG and the peacekeeping force of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were victims of hostage-taking incidents in the Zugdidi sector. Two United Nations military observers and a local staff member were taken hostage on 16 September. While possible to resolve that incident peacefully, the payment of ransom which was required to ensure the hostages safe return is contrary to established United Nations policy, which dictates that the Organization should neither pay ransom nor make substantial concession for the release of hostages. The Secretary-General stressed that the incident did not set a precedent and the United Nations policy had been reaffirmed. On 16 August, three members of the CIS force were taken hostage. They were released several days later unharmed after the demands of the hostage-takers to release two dead bodies was met.

The Secretary-General recalls that UNOMIG had made vigorous efforts to improve the safety of the Mission's staff. Nonetheless, its personnel and property were again the victims of actions of violence. For that reason, a number of improvements were being put in place. Arrangements were being made to provide the Mission with ballistic-protective vehicles to enhance the security of the military observers and to enable them to patrol areas where armed bandits and other groups were believed to operate. In addition, a United Nations security team was to visit the Mission area between 5 and 15 November to provide a "training of trainers" workshop on the handling of hostage-taking incidents. The team would also ascertain whether additional security measures were required.

While the United Nations Secretariat continues all efforts to improve the safety of UNOMIG personnel, the onus is on the parties to ensure, in their own interest, that unarmed observers are able to operate in a secure environment. The Secretary-General calls upon both sides to do all they can to improve the security situation in the area.

Reporting on recent political developments, the Secretary-General states that the Georgian/Abkhaz peace process was reactivated due to strenuous efforts undertaken during the past three months, including the convening of meetings in Geneva by his Special Representative and bilateral contacts between the parties. Despite those efforts, there was no visible progress on the key issues of the future political status of Abkhazia and the permanent return of refugees and displaced persons. With the Geneva process scheduled to resume in late November, it is hoped that the parties will map out areas where concrete political progress can be made. Also, efforts are planned to address social and economic issues vital to supporting a comprehensive settlement of the conflict. The issue of the return of refugees is also scheduled to be addressed.

The Secretary-General also informs the Council that the CIS has extended until 31 January 1998 the mandate of its peacekeeping force, which is also serving in the region. The United Nations Mission and the CIS force have been

Security Council - 6 - Press Release SC/6440 3830th Meeting (PM) 6 November 1997

cooperating within the framework of a 1994 implementation agreement and security arrangements. When the mandate of both operations expired on 31 July, the Security Council extended the UNOMIG mandate until 31 January 1998, through its adoption of resolution 1124 (1997), while a decision on the future of the CIS force remained pending. The Security Council extension of the UNOMIG mandate was made subject to review in light of any changes in the CIS force mandate. The recent decision by the CIS to extend the operations of its force was taken following discussions between CIS heads of States in late October, and consultations between political and military officials of the Russian Federation and the Government of Georgia.

According to the Secretary-General's report, mutual assistance and cooperation between UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeepers is continuing satisfactorily. While security arrangements with the CIS force have proven useful on several occasions, the Secretary-General notes that operational procedures still need to be formalized.

He notes that great effort spent by the international community during the past five years to move the conflict towards a peaceful solution has been in vain. While the ultimate responsibility for progress towards peace lies squarely upon the parties, the Secretary-General says the Security Council's mandate provides for an innovative, experimental mediatory arrangement that offers the potential for productive synergy that could assist the parties in the difficult challenges. The United Nations will continue to approach that task in a spirit of transparency and cooperation, he adds.

Without the presence of UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force, the Secretary-General observes, there can be little doubt that open conflict will resume. He urges all concerned to use the opportunity of the resumed Geneva meeting in November to achieve substantive progress.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.