31 October 2007
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The “real face” of Russian Federation peacekeepers in Georgia’s Abkhazia region could be seen in video footage shot during yesterday’s incident between them and personnel from Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Zugdidi district, Ambassador Irakli Alasania said during a press briefing this afternoon at United Nations Headquarters.

Airing video that he said had been shot by the Russian Federation’s contingent of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeepers and showed them assaulting five Georgian policemen guarding the Ganmukhuri youth peace camp, Mr. Alasania said the attack had been “unprovoked”.

“The Russian peacekeepers acted in direct violation of the CIS mandate”, said Mr. Alasania.  “The incident was the latest in a series of destabilizing acts by the Russian side aimed at undermining the peace process in Abkhazia, Georgia.”

Continuing, he said the incident had been condemned by Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili when he visited the site, and the National Security Council of Georgia had declared the head of the Russian Federation peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, General Sergei Chaban, an “undesirable person” in Georgia.  President Saakashvili had also demanded the withdrawal of the Russian Federation military personnel from the area.

Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had also condemned these acts of violence by the CIS peacekeepers and urged the Russian Federation to “immediately cease reckless acts that raise tensions in the region and could lead to unintended consequences”, Mr. Alasania said.  The Foreign Affairs Ministry had also officially requested that the CIS Executive Committee and the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recall General Chaban.

Mr. Alasania said this event occurred two months after the Tsitelubani missile attack, during which a Russian fighter jet fired an anti-radar missile on Georgian territory, and a month after a Georgian Interior Ministry police unit came under attack by armed Abkhaz separatists, who were led by two Russian military officers.

“Yesterday’s attack took place against a backdrop of recent progress in the conflict resolution process, with a direct dialogue likely to begin in the coming weeks”, he said.

Saying that each country had discretion in terms of its policy of troop formation, Mr. Alasania stressed that his country had observed another potentially provocative trend:  Russian Federation defence officials were introducing units from Chechnya to peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia.  He suggested that, given the conflict’s history, these actions could be designed to plant a seed of animosity in the complex inter-ethnic relations in the region.

The attack had made the need for a comprehensive in-depth review of the settlement process under the United Nations aegis and the current peacekeeping operation obvious, he said.  He called on the United Nations community to properly evaluate this incident and draw subsequent conclusions.

“While requesting drastic changes in the current peacekeeping, we stand ready to continue peace negotiations using all result-oriented mechanisms”, he said.  “We remain committed to all our responsibilities and commitments we have taken in conflict settlement process and expect a reciprocal approach from other actors.”

To a question on how the footage that he played had been obtained, Mr. Alasania said it had been seized by a Georgian reporter who had gone to the camp to film President Saakashvili’s subsequent visit there.

In response to a question about discussions between the Russian Federation and Georgia, Mr. Alasania noted that, following the visit of his country’s State Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze to the de facto Abkhaz capital of Sokhumi last week, seven Abkhaz fighters that had been captured on 20 September were released as a “good will gesture”.  Georgia was also negotiating follow-up steps from both sides.  Yet, Georgia felt “very nervous” that the recent event had been aimed to disrupt these positive trends.

To a question about the Russian response to the incident, he said their only response had been to say the five Georgian policemen had threatened to destroy the Russian vehicles and to execute all the Russian peacekeepers.  He stressed that the footage he had just aired showed this had not happened and that his country was still waiting for an explanation.

Responding to a question about reports that Georgia’s Government would rescind the mandate of the CIS peacekeepers, he said Georgia’s executive branch had fully debriefed Parliament on the incident earlier in the day, and Parliament had requested that its year-old decision for the withdrawal of CIS peacekeeper should be executed by the Government.  Mr. Alasania said internal debate on the timing and foreign policy approach to this withdrawal would now unfold.

He also said his mission was working with the Secretariat, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Security Council members to start the comprehensive review of the settlement process and would be meeting in the next day or two with Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.  Yet, this would take time because Georgia did not want any preconditions and the process would necessarily begin with an assessment of the current situation, and of why there had been no progress on the fundamental issues in the conflict settlement in the last 14 years.

To a question on who might eventually replace the CIS peacekeeping force, he said that his Government had already made suggestions that an international law enforcement and security force, rather than a military one, was necessary due to the fact that settling the conflict hinged on the right of return of the internally displaced people.  Because there was no secure environment -- despite its creation having been central in the CIS mandate -- the internally displaced persons could not return.  Law enforcement and security detachments were, therefore, needed to create a secure environment.

At the same time, Georgia was emphasizing direct talks with the Abkhazi separatists, he said.  While the Group of Friends and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative were going good work, the settlement process needed the fresh look of the comprehensive review.

“We have faith in the UN process, we have faith in the Group of Friends, and we will try to settle this conflict in a peaceful manner”, he said.  “But the changes that are inevitable should happen as soon as they can, to have more meaningful dialogue facilitated between the two sides.”

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For information media • not an official record