EU observers replace Russian peacekeepers

Unarmed EU observers in light armoured vehicles have carried out their first patrol near the Georgian city of Gori in the Georgian buffer zones adjoining Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The personnel of the mission started monitoring the area on October 1 following the agreement reached between Russia and EU. Russian peacekeepers will completely withdraw from the buffer zone by October 10.

After a brief holdup at a Russian checkpoint, observers were allowed into the security zone surrounding the republic of South Ossetia.

“This was the first patrol we have carried out today with the Swedish contingent from the multinational European monitoring mission in Georgia. We’ve been going up to the next village close to the administrative border with South Ossetia,” said Hansjorg Haber, Head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

After Georgia’s attack against South Ossetia on August 8, Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the so-called ‘buffer zones’ – the Georgian territories adjoining Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Currently there are nine peacekeeper outposts on the Georgian-South Ossetian border and three on the Georgian-Abkhazian border.

Vitaly Manushko, a spokesman for the Russian peacekeeping force in the Georgia-Ossetia conflict area, said the EU observers will work “up to the southern border of the security zone, which is an agreed position of the parties.”

The decision to begin patrolling the Georgian territory by the EU observers was reached during a meeting between Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the peacekeeping force, and EU officials on Tuesday according to Manushko.

The Russian peacekeepers’ commander said that the first 100km-long line controlled by them will be removed as soon as observers arrive.

The EU observers are a civilian mission and merely watch the situation. They do not carry arms and are not to intervene if any conflict between the sides arises.

The EU observers will also keep an eye on the six Medvedev-Sarkozy principles to be implemented in the region.

“The mission’s main objectives are to contribute to stability throughout Georgia and the surrounding region. In the short term, it will aim to contribute to the stabilisation of the situation, in accordance with the six-point agreement and the subsequent implementation measures,” the EU Council press release says.

The mission is to consist of 200 observers. Its headquarters will be located in Tbilisi with field offices in Gori, Bazaleti, Poti and Zugdidi.

The EU observers have a mandate to stay in the buffer zones until September 20, 2009.

However, locals fear that as soon as the Russian peacekeepers withdraw, the violence will start again and the EU monitoring mission won’t be able to restrain it.

EU ready to name Georgia aggressor 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is ready to recognise Georgia as the side that initiated the conflict in South Ossetia. But at the same time Russia’s actions in the Caucuses will be under severe criticism.

These are the main issues of the draft resolution, named ‘The Consequences of the War between Georgia and Russia’, which will be considered in Strasbourg on Thursday. The document is based on the materials of EU observers, who inspected Georgia and South Ossetian capital, Tskhinval, after August’s war.

According to the draft resolution, Georgia’s shelling of Tskhinval on August 7, which became the start of the conflict, was a result of a serious escalation of tensions in the region. It also labels the use of heavy weapons and cluster bombs as a violation of the International Law and an unproportional use of force by the Georgian side.

At the same time, Russia’s response to Georgian invasion in South Ossetia is also described as international law violation as the actions of Russian army led to occupation of a large part of Georgian territory.

The Assembly is planning to once again reaffirm Georgia's territorial integrity and condemn Russia’s recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and. EU will ask Russia to cancel this decision.

The Russian delegation is planning to vote against the resolution. Deputy-Head of Russia’s Delegation to the Assembley, Leonid Slutsky, says the document is not taking into account the amendments of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan and completely ignores all the arguments put forward by the Russian side.