EU steps up Georgia patrols ahead of war report

The European monitoring mission in Georgia will step up patrols against the risk of fresh conflict.

EU steps up Georgia patrols ahead of war report

The European monitoring mission in Georgia will step up patrols ahead of the publication of a probe into the origins of the 2008 war as a "prophylactic" measure against the risk of fresh conflict.

"We will reinforce our patrols ahead of the publication of the report and maintain maximum visibility," German diplomat Hansjorg Haber, the head of EU's monitoring mission in Georgia (EUMM), told journalists in Brussels on Monday.

The 220-strong mission was deployed a year ago in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war and is made up of unarmed security experts, who patrol the administrative boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The re-inforcements would be "purely prophylactic," Mr Haber said, linking the move to the risk of fresh tensions around the publication of an EU-sponsored report into last year's war.

The study, drawn up by an independent commission headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, is due to out sometime next week.

The report was originally due at the end of July, a few days before the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the war on 7 August. But it was delayed after Ms Tagliavini said fresh material came to light at a late stage.

According to diplomatic sources quoted by Spiegel Online, the Swiss diplomat intends to brief UN chief Ban Ki Moon in New York this week and then release the study to Georgian, Russian and EU diplomats simultaneously.

The report could prove explosive.

If it points the finger solely at Moscow it could undermine the new thaw in US and EU relations with Russia.

If it primarily blames Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, it could worsen instability in the Caucasus republic, where months-long opposition rallies in spring had already called for the president to step down.

Preliminary documents leaked to Der Spiegel in June made Mr Saakashvili look bad, saying that there was no evidence that Russian tanks invaded Georgia before he opened fire. But in a statement released after the publication of the article, Ms Tagliavini said she would have the final word on the conclusions of the probe.

According to EU diplomats, the final report is likely to blame both sides - Mr Saakashvili for mounting the attack and Moscow for escalating the conflict through its massive deployment of troops.

Asked about the prospects of a renewed conflict, Mr Haber said that both sides have toned down their rhetoric a great deal compared to last year.

"Now it's just a remote residual possibility of conflict, against which Georgia of course wants to be insured, and Russia to some extent too," he said, adding that Russia is even contemplating halving its 3,600-man strong military presence in Georgia as tensions subside.

Mr Haber said there were "no prospects" of Russia allowing EU monitors into South Ossetia or Abkhazia despite the improved climate, however.

The EUMM is also incapable of monitoring the maritime disputes between Georgia and Abkhazia, as it has no ships at its disposal. "But we are following the events and we asked the two sides to discuss the matter within the conflict resolution mechanism," the mission chief added.

Russia's coastguard authority said on Monday it had begun patrolling waters off Abkhazia, after Georgia seized cargo ships heading to and from the region, raising fears of a naval skirmish in the Black Sea.

EUobserver

Last Mod: 22 Eylül 2009, 16:47
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