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Latest events threaten peace process in Georgia, Secretary-General says

Latest events threaten peace process in Georgia, Secretary-General says

The latest events in Georgia - including the downing earlier this month of a helicopter with the United Nations observer mission - show that unless meaningful negotiations on the future political status of Abkhazia are restarted, the entire peace process can be jeopardized, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report.

"The fighting in the Kodori Valley and surrounding areas of Abkhazia, Georgia, as well as the shooting down of a UNOMIG helicopter on 8 October, represent a serious deterioration of the situation and a setback in efforts to achieve a political settlement," Mr. Annan says in his latest report to the Security Council on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia. "Both sides must unequivocally respect the ceasefire, renew their commitment to seek a resolution of the conflict by political means, stop encouraging any military action and return to the peace process without reservation or procrastination."

The shooting down of a helicopter with unarmed personnel from the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) on board was "an outrage," the Secretary-General says, raising serious questions about the failure of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides to ensure the security of UN personnel - the cornerstone of any UN involvement in the region. "The perpetrators of criminal acts targeted against UNOMIG must be brought to justice," he says.

In an appeal to interested States - known as the Group of Friends - Mr. Annan says they should expedite, in close cooperation with his Special Representative, Dieter Boden, the process of finalizing the draft paper on the distribution of competences between Tbilisi and Sukhumi and "to bring it to a successful conclusion." Moreover, he urges the Abkhaz side to review its position and, following the finalization of the text, to join efforts to proceed with negotiations on the basis of the draft paper.

The Secretary-General also criticizes the two sides for cancelling three meetings of the Coordinating Council over the last six months, twice at the request of the Abkhaz side, saying this threatens to defeat the purpose of the negotiating forum. "Both sides should be aware that these mechanisms are established to serve their own security, especially in times of crisis," he writes. "They should, therefore, return immediately to full-fledged participation in the Coordinating Council and all its working groups."

As for the refugees and internally displaced persons, the Secretary-General notes that there has been no progress on facilitating their "safe, secure and dignified return" and calls on both sides to resume serious work on this matter on the basis of existing agreements.