The Security Council met today for the fourth time in less than three days to discuss the crisis engulfing Georgia, where large numbers of casualties have been reported as a result of fierce fighting between Georgian and Russian forces and thousands of civilians have been displaced from their homes.
The meeting took place after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement last night calling for an immediate end to the violence, voicing fears that the conflict was spreading beyond the South Ossetia region and the humanitarian toll was rising and urging all sides to seek a peaceful resolution.
B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed Council members on the latest developments inside South Ossetia, where the fighting first erupted on Thursday night, and in other parts of Georgia.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet then briefed the 15-member panel on the situation inside Abkhazia, a region in the northwest where the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) monitors a separate 1994 ceasefire accord.
Mr. Pascoe noted that the UN had no first-hand information from South Ossetia and relied largely on media reports, mainly Russian, as most Georgian news websites appeared to be blocked.
He said there were conflicting media reports about whether Georgian forces were regrouping or withdrawing from South Ossetia, as well as reports that Russian forces were moving towards the city of Gori.
Quoting figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mr. Pascoe said that at least 2,000 ethnic Georgians have fled South Ossetia and arrived in collective centres near the national capital, Tbilisi, and Gori, while others are staying with relatives.
The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is expected to rise to as many as 20,000, according to UNHCR, while about 5,000 South Ossetians have already fled to the neighbouring North Ossetia-Alania region of Russia.
Mr. Pascoe said UNOMIG also confirmed that Russian aircraft have today bombed Georgian military and strategic targets outside South Ossetia.
Mr. Mulet told the Council “the situation in Abkhazia remains extremely concerning, with a military build-up continuing on the Abkhaz side of the zone of conflict, as well as bombings of [the] Upper Kodori Valley,” including Georgian villages there.
Abkhaz forces have moved troops and heavy weapons into the zone of conflict over the past two days, he said, adding that UNOMIG has confirmed that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force did not attempt to stop such deployment.
UNOMIG has withdrawn its 15 observers from the Upper Kodori Valley after Abkhaz de facto authorities informed the mission that their safety could no longer be guaranteed. An increase in bombings has also meant the mission has had to scale down its operations and is now conducting only essential patrols.
Mr. Mulet said UNOMIG has reported the ongoing build-up of both Abkhaz and Russian forces in an around the zone of conflict, but it has not observed major movements of troops or weapons on the Georgian side.
Georgian Ambassador Irakli Alasania told the Council that all Georgian troops had withdrawn today from the conflict zone in South Ossetia and a humanitarian corridor had been established for civilians. But he said the country's forces continued to be bombed and prevented from a full-scale withdrawal.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Mr. Pascoe's briefing showed that the UN Secretariat and its leadership could not be objective on this crisis, which he said was the direct result of Georgian aggression against South Ossetia. He said Russia had acted appropriately to defend civilians and its peacekeepers.
The Council met twice on Friday to discuss the conflict and heard a closed-door briefing yesterday from Mr. Mulet on the situation.