Resolving Georgian crisis may be harder after Russian move – Ban

26 August 2008
Displaced people wait to register in Gori at UNHCR office

The question of recognition of States is a matter for sovereign States to decide, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today after Russia announced that it had recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two separatist regions in Georgia.

But he cautioned that “today’s developments may have wider implications for security and stability in the Caucasus,” according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.

Mr. Ban also voiced regret that “ongoing efforts to find a common solution on the way forward in the crisis in Georgia within the Security Council may be complicated.”

Violence broke out earlier this month between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, with Russian forces becoming involved in South Ossetia and in the separate region of Abkhazia in north-western Georgia.

In today’s statement, the Secretary-General repeated his call for the six-point plan agreed to between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to be fully implemented.

The principles in that plan include: a commitment by all parties to renounce the use of force; the immediate and definitive cessation of hostilities; free access to humanitarian aid; the withdrawal of Georgian forces to their places of permanent deployment; and the convening of international discussions on lasting security arrangements for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The other principle stipulates the withdrawal of Russian forces to their lines of deployment before 7 August, and includes the additional provision that Russian peacekeeping forces may implement additional security measures pending the definition of an international mechanism.

Mr. Ban also stressed the “urgent need” to protect all civilians living in zones of conflict.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 158,000 people – 128,000 within Georgia and 30,000 who have fled to Russia – were uprooted by the recent fighting.

In a press release, the agency called on all parties to the conflict in South Ossetia to “make their best efforts to contain further outbreaks of lawlessness which could contribute to additional displacement.”

Most of the returns of people since last Friday’s Russian withdrawal “have been spontaneous, with many of the displaced [returning] from areas in and around the Georgian capital, Tbilisi,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

The agency expressed concern over reports that marauding militias, north of Gori, forcibly displaced people from their homes. Some civilians who had returned home this weekend to the town, which lies near the boundary with South Ossetia, after fleeing earlier this month were once again uprooted.

UNHCR said it had received reports that some of the newly displaced have been beaten, harassed, robbed or even killed.

Out of an initial population of 70,000, the agency estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 people have returned to Gori, which was largely abandoned.

UNHCR, whose chief recently wrapped up a four-day mission to both Georgia and Russia, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) have opened offices in Gori since the start of hostilities, distributing food and other relief supplies.

A WFP team found nearly empty villages, burned-out houses and looted shops in the heart of the combat zone north of Gori. The few remaining people expressed fear to go into their fields and orchards because of mines and other unexploded ordnance.

Georgian police are also returning to the area, with the Government setting up shelters for the displaced, including many from South Ossetia.

As of yesterday, 104 airlifts, truck convoys or ships have delivered supplies to Georgia and North Ossetia (Russia) since fighting broke out, with 10 more planes planning to deliver aid, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

So far, there is a shortfall of more than $35 million for the nearly $60 million humanitarian appeal launched on 18 August by the UN and its aid partners.

Elizabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for OCHA, said that humanitarian access to South Ossetia has been impeded by insecurity and infrastructure destruction.


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