Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia (S/2005/453)



I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1582 (2005) of 28 January 2005, by which the Council decided to extend the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) until 31 July 2005. It provides an update of the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, since my report of 25 April 2005 (S/2005/269).

2. My Special Representative for Georgia, Heidi Tagliavini, continued to head UNOMIG. She was assisted in this task by the Chief Military Observer, Major General Hussein Ghobashi (Egypt), until 11 June 2005, when he completed his tour of duty with the Mission. A new Chief Military Observer is due to arrive at the Mission shortly. The strength of UNOMIG as at 1 July 2005 stood at 120 military observers and 12 civilian police officers (see annex).

II. Political process

3. The participation of the Georgian and Abkhaz side in the United Nationschaired meeting of the Group of Friends on 7 and 8 April in Geneva (see S/2005/269, paras. 10-12) signalled the resumption of the United Nations-led peace process after over eight months of suspended contacts between the parties. Subsequently, my Special Representative focused her efforts on resuming the dialogue between the two sides on the primary issues of political and security matters, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and economic cooperation. These issues are being pursued in order to address practical and humanitarian challenges in the conflict zone and to improve confidence between the two sides so that negotiations on a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict can take place, using the paper entitled "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competences between Tbilisi and Sukhumi" and its transmittal letter (see S/2002/88, para. 3) as a starting point.

4. In pursuance of these aims, my Special Representative brought the Georgian and Abkhaz sides together on 12 May at UNOMIG's Gali headquarters to discuss security issues in the zone of conflict. The Commander of the collective peacekeeping forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) also participated. The discussion concluded with a protocol, signed by Mr. Khaindrava,

the Minister for Conflict Resolution of Georgia, and Mr. Shamba, the de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister, as well as UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force, including measures to strengthen the implementation of the Moscow Agreement on a ceasefire and separation of forces of 1994 (S/1994/583 and Corr.1, annex I) and subsequent security commitments. The parties undertook to submit figures on the strength of their armed personnel in the conflict zone, samples of their identification documents and proposals for establishing additional hot lines between the law enforcement agencies across the ceasefire line. They agreed to maintain a minimum distance between the positions of law enforcement agencies and the ceasefire line, to establish groups on each side to monitor the situation in the security zone, to exchange information on criminal activities, to ensure support for and security of staff of international organizations implementing projects, to improve the human rights situation and to resume patrolling in the Kodori valley. They also undertook to hold a meeting on security guarantees, in line with commitments made at the Geneva meeting of the Group of Friends of 7 and 8 April 2004, scheduled for 20 and 21 July.

5. On 15 and 16 June, the Russian Federation convened the so-called Sochi working groups on the rehabilitation of the Sochi-Tbilisi railway and on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons in Moscow (see S/2003/412, para. 5). The two sides were represented at the ministerial level; my Special Representative and the Commander of the CIS peacekeeping force also participated. At the meeting on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, the parties expressed support for the documents prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which included a draft questionnaire and plan for a verification and registration of returnees in the Gali district, as well as the paper on strategic directions for activities in confidence-building in the context of returns. They also resumed the discussion on the draft "letter of intent" prepared by UNOMIG and UNHCR and endorsed by the Group of Friends (see S/2004/315, para. 9). The Head of Tbilisi office of UNHCR, the lead United Nations agency on the issue, participated in the meeting.

6. At the meeting on the railway rehabilitation, the parties agreed that an expert group would meet to discuss the security and other practical aspects of conducting a technical survey of the Psou-Inguri section of the railway, which includes the Inguri bridge. This follow-up high-level meeting took place with participation of my Special Representative on 2 July in the UNOMIG Gali headquarters. The parties agreed to establish joint mobile groups, including representatives of the two sides and the Russian Federation, and to finalize all related practical matters in order to begin the survey in mid-July.

7. The efforts of my Special Representative took place against the background of continuing efforts by the authorities in Sukhumi to consolidate their position in the aftermath of the de facto elections. On the question of Abkhazia's status, the leadership in Sukhumi reiterated its position that it had been determined through the unilateral proclamation of independence (see S/1999/1087, para. 7). The Georgian leadership has affirmed its readiness to engage with the new Abkhaz leadership and its commitment to a peaceful solution. Sukhumi questioned this commitment, citing in particular the increased military expenditure by Tbilisi, and regarded Georgian statements on the closure of the Abkhaz portion of the Black Sea to international maritime traffic as provocative and intended to disrupt the summer tourist season.

8. In addition, my Special Representative has maintained regular contact with the Group of Friends, including with the Russian Federation in its capacity as facilitator. She facilitated visits to the zone of conflict by high-level representatives of the Group of Friends, including the visits of Ambassador Steven Mann, Special Negotiator for Eurasian Conflicts of the United States State Department in April and of Sir Brian Fall, the Special Representative for the South Caucasus of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in June, as well as other diplomatic representatives. She also met with Mr. Valery Loshchinin, First Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Georgian-Abkhaz Settlement in Moscow in June.

9. On 30 May, the Foreign Ministers of Georgia and the Russian Federation affirmed their cooperation on the achievement of a peaceful settlement of conflicts in Georgia in their joint declaration on the modalities of functioning and the withdrawal of Russian bases from Georgia. On 10 May, the President of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush, emphasized the need for peaceful settlement of conflicts during his visit to Tbilisi. He urged the Georgian leadership to work with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian leaderships towards that end and pledged United States support for and cooperation with the United Nations in resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

III. Operational activities

10. UNOMIG military observers performed their monitoring and observation tasks through daily ground patrols in the Gali and Zugdidi sectors. They maintained close liaison with the authorities of the two parties, including their law enforcement agencies, and the CIS peacekeeping force. The parties participated regularly in the weekly quadripartite meetings with UNOMIG and the CIS peacekeeping force to discuss security issues in the zone of conflict, including the implementation of the provisions of the protocol of 12 May (see para. 4 above), and in the investigations of the Joint Fact-Finding Group. Patrolling of the Abkhaz-controlled lower Kodori valley was carried out, but patrolling of the Georgian-controlled upper Kodori valley remained suspended for security reasons.

11. During the reporting period, no violations of the 1994 Moscow Agreement were recorded. On 21 April, the Abkhaz side conducted a military exercise involving heavy weapons in the Ochamchira training area adjacent to the Gali sector restricted weapons zone, but avoided violations of the ceasefire arrangements. The situation along the ceasefire line remained generally calm, although criminal activities continued to highlight the lack of effective law enforcement and low confidence among the local population in the existing local law enforcement agencies.

Gali sector

12. The situation in the Gali sector has been relatively calm, although criminal activities continued with 11 armed robberies, one shooting, one abduction, five detentions and one explosion reported. Tensions were reported in the lower Gali district, when on 16 May, Abkhaz armed personnel threatened and forced the village population to pay compensation for a stolen trailer containing scrap metal. On 18 May, three residents of Zugdidi were abducted in Nabakevi near the ceasefire

line; timely action of the Gali militia led to the arrest of perpetrators and the release of the abductees. On 25 May, two Abkhaz soldiers were killed and three injured while handling an explosive device at their checkpoint west of Gali city. On 31 May, between 25 and 30 young men from the village of Okumi were taken by Abkhaz military recruitment authorities; most of them were later released. On 18 June, in Pichori, in the lower Gali district, two UNOMIG patrol teams comprising 11 military observers and two interpreters were robbed by three armed masked men. The perpetrators fired several bullets into the ground. No injuries or damage occurred. UNOMIG subsequently increased the security level for its personnel operating in the lower Gali district.

Zugdidi sector

13. The situation in the Zugdidi sector has been generally calm, with a number of criminal incidents reported, including one killing, two shootings and seven robberies. On 19 May, the Georgian police uncovered an arms cache with 10 antitank mines, 20 rocket-propelled grenades, grenade launchers and explosive material in an abandoned tea factory in the village of Natsuluku north-east of Zugdidi. On 29 May, a CIS peacekeeping force convoy of 11 vehicles came under fire in the vicinity of Zugdidi; two vehicles were damaged, but no causalities were reported. On 4 June, an exchange of fire took place between a group of smugglers from the Abkhaz-controlled side of the ceasefire line and Georgian police near the ceasefire line in Shamgona; one perpetrator was wounded and arrested.

Kodori valley

14. Based on reports from the authorities of both sides and the CIS peacekeeping force, the situation in the Kodori valley has been assessed as generally calm. However, there were reports of security apprehensions among the population in the upper Kodori valley following the decision to disband the local "hunters" battalion by the authorities in Tbilisi in late April. On 27 April, UNOMIG engineers and the CIS peacekeeping force conducted a patrol to the lower Kodori valley to assess the damage to the main road as a result of torrential rainfall that had caused flooding. Damage in the upper part of the valley could not be assessed as patrols there remain suspended pending the provision of necessary security guarantees from the Georgian side.

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