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POLITICS: S. Ossetia and Abkhazia Seek Voice in Security Council

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 28 2008 (IPS) - Russia wants the U.N. Security Council to allow the leadership of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to take part in ongoing international talks over the future of their territories.

The two secessionist states are considered by Moscow as independent nations, but in the eyes of the United States and its Western allies remain an integral part of Georgia.

“This meeting can’t be fully valid without the representation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” said the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, while addressing a Security Council meeting Thursday. The public meeting of the Council was called by its president at the request of Georgia.

In his speech, Churkin defended his country’s decision to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and reiterated that Moscow was forced to do so as a result of Georgia’s breach of the six-point agreement to put an end to the armed conflict. The ceasefire agreement was brokered by France on Aug. 12.

Diplomats from the United States and the European Union deplored Russia for its move to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia and charged that Moscow’s act was in violation of the U.N. Charter and international law. They also reaffirmed their support for Georgia’s claim that both the regions were an integral part of its territory.

However, Russia seemed somewhat successful in having its point of view endorsed by some of the non-permanent members of the Council from the developing world. Indonesia and South Africa, for example, agreed with the Russian position on the failure of Georgia to abide by the Aug. 12 agreement.

“This agreement presented a good basis,” said South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who thinks the situation has become “complicated” because all the parties involved in the conflict did not accept it fully. Kumalo also supported the Russian demand for the inclusion of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia leadership in the talks.

Indonesia, another major developing country in the Council, expressed its frustration over the deadlock in diplomatic talks over the Georgian conflict and said it still “welcomes” the six-point agreement between the parties.

The six-point agreement signed by the Russians and Georgians calls for the withdrawal of the Georgian forces to their permanent bases and the Russian military to “the line prior to the beginning of hostilities,” meaning South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In accordance with the agreement, the Russians have pulled out their troops from Georgia – but not from the separatist regions. Russia says it wants the world community to open a discussion of larger security and stability arrangements in the two regions.

But Georgia and its powerful Western allies insist that Russian forces leave all the disputed territories, a condition Moscow seems unwilling to accept.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ossetia and Abkhazia had become part of Georgia, although it was widely reported at the time that people in the two regions aspired to have their own sovereign states. The former Soviet constitution allowed the states to secede.

The Russians created their peacekeeping forces in the two regions in 1992 and 1994, following the Georgian military’s incursions in 1992 under the slogan, “Georgia for Georgians.”

Moscow justifies its decision to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by citing the U.N. Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, and other fundamental international instruments that recognise nations’ right to self-determination.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday he had tried to preserve Georgian unity for 17 years, but was forced to change course after the Georgian government carried out a massive military crackdown in South Ossetia early this month.

The Aug. 8 army action resulted in hundreds of deaths as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

When asked for his response to the Russians’ call to include the South Ossetian and Abkhazian leadership in the U.N.-led talks, the U.S. deputy representative to the U.N., Alejandro Wolff, told IPS: “We see no basis for inviting them and rewarding them.”

According to some unconfirmed reports, the Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders are eager to take part in the Security Council talks, but have failed to obtain visas from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

Surprisingly, China, a giant power in the developing world that holds veto power in the Council, did not take part in the debate.

When asked to comment by a journalist, the Russian ambassador said: “We have no complaint about our colleagues [from China].”

Churkin told the Security Council that Moscow was fully prepared to start negotiations with the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to sign a bilateral agreement on friendship and cooperation. The representatives of the two regions have already welcomed Moscow’s move to recognise their territories as independent countries.

Churkin said many members of the Council were supportive of the six-point agreement and that he felt optimistic about the outcome of the ongoing international talks. “There’s discussion about the U.N. observers [in the regions],” he said. “But we will have some more discussions.”

However, conversations with Western diplomats suggested there was no imminent resolution to the dispute over the Georgian situation. “No, there is no hope of any breakthrough soon,” a French diplomat told IPS before stepping into the Security Council chamber to take part in the debate.

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