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15 Jul, 2009 08:43

UN peacekeepers leave Abkhazia

UN military observers have officially stopped working in Abkhazia as the whole peacekeeping mission is leaving the republic after almost 16 years of deployment there.

Now Russian forces are to help Abkhazians protect the border with Georgia and support humanitarian missions.

The decision to withdraw peacekeepers was made by the UN Security Council, but its members were not unanimous in their decision to pull out their troops. Ten countries, including the US, UK and France, voted to prolong the mandate, but Russia used its right of veto, claiming that the UN document saw Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia, which contradicted the current state of affairs in the region.

UN troops have been deployed in Abkhazia since 1993, following a violent conflict between Georgia and its breakaway territory. They were stationed alongside CIS peacekeepers that were also present in the republic to separate the conflicting sides and help stop bloodshed.

It was not an easy mission for the international personnel. Sixteen UN employees have been killed in separate incidents – bomb explosions and shootings at the border with Georgia and in terrorist acts.

The situation in Abkhazia changed drastically after Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia last year. Russia recognized Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence and started diplomatic, humanitarian and military co-operation with both republics.

On July 10, the Abkhazian parliament ratified a bilateral treaty on border patrols, laying the ground for Russian-Abkhazian co-operation in that field.

Besides guarding the border, the joint forces will provide security for humanitarian missions.

Criminal activity coming across the border from Georgia is still one of the main concerns for Abkhazian officials.

At one of the meetings held in UN headquarters in Gali, the Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister Maksim Gvindzhia told RT that, “Our main concern is the penetration of criminal elements from Georgia into Abkhazia that come and undermine the situation here. So our main concern is to strengthen border security between Abkhazia and Georgia. We connect the instability in the Gali district with the insurgency coming from Georgia.”

There are thousands of displaced persons now living in Georgia that are willing to return to their homes in Abkhazia. Abkhazia has already let in about 20,000 people in the Gali region alone. There are also thousands of Abkhazians who have lost their homes and land in Georgia. That is why it is likely that the UN mission will provide further assistance in the peacekeeping process, until all the personnel are withdrawn from Abkhazia in 2-3 months time.