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22 Dec, 2008 17:12

OSCE mission set to withdraw from Georgia

Russia is urging the OSCE to wrap up its mission in Georgia as its mandate expires on December 31. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will have to begin withdrawing on January 1, following a successful effort by Russia that blocked a

Russia's OSCE envoy Anvar Azimov said: “From the point of view of Russian law on the recognition of South Ossetia [and Abkhazia] it is illegal.”

He said that the current mandate needed revision, as it authorises the presence of observers in Georgia’s two breakaway regions.

A possible solution could be splitting up the group's mission and deploying three independent presences in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, provided all the parties agree to that, he added.

Azimov also said that Russia was interested in the OSCE’s presence in Georgia, but added that it was up to the leadership of the breakaway provinces to decide on a presence on their territories.

Georgia was quick to react. Interfax reported that the country’s new Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze described Russia’s move as a “destructive step”.

He was quoted as saying, “Russia is trying to get rid of one more witness on the occupied territory – the OSCE.”

Vashadze alleged that “there are thousands of cases of human rights violations” on the “occupied territories” and that Russia was trying to prevent international watchdogs from “fixing alleged human rights abuses”.

Finland, which is the current chair of the organization, called a meeting on Monday to seek a three-month extension of the mandate. But according to Antti Turunen, the country's ambassador to the OSCE, no consensus was reached: the OSCE makes decisions only by consensus.

Russia is the only member of the 56-nation organisation to have recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

OSCE monitors remained in South Ossetia until Georgia's August 8 armed attempt to rein in the rebel province. After the five-day conflict, the organisation, which wanted to reinstate its monitors’ presence in South Ossetia, was denied permission by the local authorities, who accused the OSCE of failing to prevent the Georgian attack.

The OSCE's mission opened in 1992 and currently consists of about 200 monitors.