Russia, Georgia take first step on conflict prevention

19th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

The proposals, which were still being detailed, would open up more immediate channels of communication between all security forces on the ground.

Geneva -- Russia and Georgia have agreed on proposals for the first concrete measures to prevent conflicts being sparked over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, international mediators said after talks on Wednesday.

"During the talks of 17 and 18 February in Geneva, the participants have discussed and agreed on consensus proposals for mechanisms of joint prevention and resolution of incidents," said Pierre Morel, the EU's envoy on the crisis in Georgia.

The proposals, which were still being detailed, would open up more immediate channels of communication between all security forces on the ground, diplomats from the European Union, the United Nations and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.

"They will meet on a weekly basis, or more often as required," the co-chairs of the talks said in a joint statement. "As a follow-up to incidents, agreed joint visits may be conducted."

The UN's special representative for Georgia Johan Verbeke said the measures opened up the possibility of more immediate dialogue on potential flashpoints, and were likely to include a telephone hotline.

"It's a first tangible step," he told journalists.

But the agreement was only partial, and discussion on the rest of the security arrangements, including on militia movements and force build-ups, were put off until the next meeting in Geneva, expected within months.

The meeting also failed to reach an agreement on the second key area, humanitarian issues, including access for aid to Georgian populations in South Ossetia and refugees.

Nonetheless, the outcome was welcomed by senior government officials from Georgia and Russia as a confidence-building measure.

"We think it's a positive step but the crucial part comes (now) because both sides need the political will to implement it," Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria said.

His counterpart in the Russian delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin, welcomed the "consensus," saying it helped foster a positive atmosphere along with the UN Security Council resolution last week that prolonged monitoring.

"Today is a remarkable day. We achieved something which we were trying to do for the last several months, so let's develop the positive impetus," Karasin told journalists.

"We have to work on the ground now."

The proposals were "an important step in helping to bring stability and security," the international mediators added.

It was the fourth session of peace talks held in Geneva since the conflict last August over the Moscow-backed breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia sent its army deep into Georgia to push back a Georgian offensive to regain control of South Ossetia.

Russian forces later withdrew to the breakaway regions under an EU-brokered ceasefire, but Tbilisi remains furious at their presence there.

On Friday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN mission in Georgia for four months, and called for progress in the Geneva talks.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried welcomed Wednesday's proposals as an achievement but expressed concern at the outcome on humanitarian issues.

"We have a very long way to go in restoring security and peace on a long term sustainable basis in Georgia," he said, warning that the situation in South Ossetia was "unsatisfactory even dire" and could quickly spiral out of control.

But Fried underlined that the Geneva process contributed to the recently heralded thaw in US-Russian relations and that he and Karasin were often in phone contact about Georgia.

"I will be able report to my leadership that we had a step forward today and there is the basis for further practical work even on these tough issues."

The next round of the talks was due to take place over the next few months, but Russia was unable to agree on an exact date, diplomats said.

Peter Capella/AFP/Expatica

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