Press conference on downing of air surveillance vehicle over Abkhazia, Georgia

The Russian Federation should recognize and explain its act of aggression in shooting down an unmanned air surveillance vehicle over Abkhazia, Georgia, on 20 April and provide compensation for the material loss, Irakli Alasania, Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations, said at Headquarters today.

At a press conference to discuss the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) report on that incident, Mr. Alasania said his country had decided to demand an official explanation from the Russian Federation concerning that act of aggression committed on Georgian territory. Georgia was also demanding that the Russian Federation indicate the basis and reasons for its action, and requesting that it desist from carrying out provocative acts in Georgia's conflict regions.

In addition, he continued, Georgia was requesting information on the decision-making process leading to the aircraft's downing and the identities of officials directly responsible for the implementation of the aggression. It was also seeking the identities of other officials and military units involved, and that of the attacker aircraft, as well as information on its take-off area and the section of its flight route not recorded by Georgian radar. Georgia continued to insist on the withdrawal of the additional military contingent, armoured vehicles and equipment deployed without the Government's consent in the Abkhazia conflict region as of 30 April.

Mr. Alasania noted that the UNOMIG report held the Russian Federation responsible for the military aggression and pointed out that, at the time of the attack, the unarmed aircraft had been attempting to monitor illegal Abkhaz and Russian military movements in the conflict zone. In doing so, Georgia had been exercising its sovereign right to monitor the situation in its own territory. The already confirmed act by the Russian Federation violated Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty and was in direct breach of paragraph 4, Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits the use of force against the territorial integrity of any State. It constituted an act of aggression under the General Assembly resolution on Definition of Aggression.

That aggressive military operation, in internationally recognized Georgian airspace, posed a threat to civilian transport vessels, he said, stressing that radar records confirmed that the interception had taken place very close to, or even inside, an international airway at a time when civilian aircraft were in flight. By that aggressive military act, the Russian Federation had, once again, explicitly revealed its biased approach to the conflict resolution process, thereby undermining its role as a mediator and facilitator.

The intrusion of the fighter jet and its destruction of the unmanned vehicle were the latest vivid expressions of disregard for Georgian sovereignty, he continued. In 2007 alone, Georgia had witnessed two bombings of its territory, as well as airspace violations and acts of sabotage. In that very fragile part of Georgia, the international presence had failed not only to prevent violations of the country's sovereignty, but also to respond to them. In addition, the President of the Russian Federation had issued an executive order to establish direct legal, trade, economic, social, scientific, technical, education and cultural ties with the separatist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As a consequence, a dangerous reality was being witnessed on the ground, with profound consequences for the prospects for peace in the region.

Mr. Alasania said the joint peacekeeping forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) deployed in Abkhazia following the signing of the Moscow Ceasefire Agreement had failed to fulfil the mandate entrusted to them and to maintain a stable and secure environment in their zone of responsibility. As a result, the Georgian population residing in the conflict zone was subject to constant terror. Since the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, more than 2,000 local civilians had lost their lives and 8,000 Georgian households had been burnt down. Today, the peacekeeping shield was being used to introduce more Russian troops into Abkhazia, although the training of those troops did not serve peacekeeping purposes. Instead, their sole purpose was active military combat.

Noting that his country had requested the Security Council President to convene a meeting on the matter, he said that, despite the recent incident, Georgia still saw the possibility of a constructive Russian role as a potential peacemaker in the conflict. Georgia looked forward to bilateral discussions with the Russian Federation to resolve outstanding issues in a peaceful and constructive manner.

Responding to a question, he said the Russian Federation's proposal that Abkhaz representatives be invited to any Security Council meeting was in breach of existing arrangements under the United Nations Geneva process. Besides, it was hard to imagine the Organization allowing separatist insurgents who had been implicated in ethnic cleansing to be present at that international forum.

Regarding UNOMIG's conclusion that Georgia's use of the unmanned aerial vehicle violated the terms of the Moscow Agreement, he said his country had been forced to use its national military capabilities to monitor the situation because of inaction on the part of the international structures on the ground. There was no other way to report credibly on Russian and separatist troop movements.

For information media - not an official record