Georgia furious as OSCE observer mission scrapped
AFP - Tuesday, December 23
TBILISI (AFP) - - Georgia furiously accused Russia on Monday of seeking to hide "war crimes," after objections from Moscow forced Europe's OSCE security agency to wrap up an observer mission in the ex-Soviet republic.
The Finnish presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the OSCE will pull its observers out of Georgia on January 1 after Russia objected to a plan to extend its mission by three months.
"From the 1st of January on, we will withdraw our mission," said Antti Turunen, permanent ambassador to the Vienna-based organisation, adding in a clear reference to Russia, "one country was not on the line to prolong the mission."
The mandate of the observer mission formally ends on December 31 but the OSCE head, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, sought backing Friday from the body's 56 member states for a three-month extension.
That failed when Moscow tried to exclude from the plan South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian provinces which Moscow has recognised as independent, the only OSCE member to do so.
Excluding the two provinces from the OSCE mission to Georgia would have amounted to a recognition of independence by the member states and would have been unacceptable to Georgia.
The OSCE has 180 people in Georgia, including 28 unarmed observers monitoring the ceasefire near South Ossetia -- the Georgian rebel region at the centre of a war in August between Georgia and Russia.
Georgia's minister for reintegration, Temur Iakobashvili, said Russia was seeking to cover up its actions in South Ossetia by blocking the mission.
"Russia is trying to block the OSCE monitoring exercise in South Ossetia because it committed war crimes there, including ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population," he told AFP.
"The Kremlin is desperately trying to bring legitimacy to its proxy regimes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and international organisations are not allowing it to do so," he said.
"The civilised world must condemn this policy, to show that it is impossible in the 21st century to change the borders of a sovereign state through military means."
At the end of the five-day war, Russian troops blocked OSCE observers from gaining access to sites inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Special dispensation for 20 OSCE personnel to remain in Georgia -- but outside South Ossetia -- until February 19 had not been affected by Monday's announcement, Turunen added.
In a statement from Helsinki, Stubb said Russia refused to allow any link between OSCE activities in South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia because of Moscow's recognition of both rebel regions as independent states. So far only Russia and Nicaragua have done so.
"I deeply regret the situation.... The OSCE still has much work to do in the region. Despite the situation today I hope that negotiations on future OSCE activities in Georgia can be continued next year," he said.
The statement said a proposal for mutually independent field offices in Georgia and South Ossetia had been put forward. The field offices would have been directed by a special representative with the group's Vienna headquarters.
It said the OSCE would prepare to close down the mission "in a few months."
"Local staffs will have to search for new jobs," Turunen said.
For his part, Russia's ambassador to the OSCE Anvar Azimov said negotiations for an OSCE mandate could resume while the organisation dismantles its Georgia operation.
"Even if we fail it's not a tragedy. The institutions (that work with the OSCE in Georgia) will continue the job with or without the OSCE," he added.
The OSCE mission has been operating in Georgia since 1992 and was involved in ceasefire monitoring in South Ossetia since it broke from Georgian control after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia has been critical of the group's activities during the war, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this month accusing the OSCE of failing to inform member states when its observers allegedly warned of a Georgian offensive on South Ossetia.
Russia sent troops into Georgia in early August to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake South Ossetia, which had received extensive backing from Moscow for years.
Russian forces later withdrew to within South Ossetia and Abkhazia under a European Union-brokered ceasefire. A 225-member EU mission will continue to monitor the ceasefire.
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Georgian police officers hand over a Russian army conscript(C) who was driving a Russian army truck that was seized near the rebel region of South Ossetia, to OSCE representatives near Tbilisi, in September 2008. Georgia accused Russia on Monday of seeking to hide "war crimes," after objections from Moscow forced OSCE security agency to wrap up an observer mission in the ex-Soviet republic.
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