International talks on the Russian-Georgian conflict in South Ossetia have now entered issues of substance, with in-depth political discussions focusing on a mechanism to help prevent and resolve incidents as they arise, a senior United Nations envoy said today.
“I am confident that the process [is] now fully on track,” Johan Verbeke, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), told journalists at the end of a two-day session in Geneva.
He said that contrary to the first two Geneva discussions, no procedural issues had been flagged this time and the meeting, which brought together representatives of the UN, Georgia, Russia, the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), had now gone to the very substance of their work.
One working group, on security and stability, discussed proposals for joint incident prevention and response mechanisms as well as free movement of people through crossing points and joint visits to sensitive areas, according to a statement issued by the three co-chairs, the UN, EU and OSCE.
On the positive side, participants agreed in principle on broad terms for participation in and implementation of the mechanisms. Only a few items of difference remained. But despite last minute talks, they had been unable to reach agreement today and would continue work towards agreement at the next meeting on 17-18 February, it added.
A second working group discussed concrete steps to improve living conditions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees through a joint UN-EU-OSCE needs assessment, but that still requires guaranteed access for both experts and delivery of humanitarian goods. The parties agreed to quickly find ways to resume gas delivery to all affected populations, the statement said.
Long-term activities related to registration and documentation of refugees as well as conditions for safe, voluntary and dignified return were also discussed.
The conflict erupted in August with Georgian troops fighting Russian and separatist South Ossetian forces. Russia later announced that it had recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region in Georgia.