In his report to the Security Council on situation in Abkhazia, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has again called for “a revised security regime” across the Abkhaz administrative border owing “erosion” of the previous one that was in force for over a decade, but undermined after the August war.
The document’s title is “Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1808 (2008), 1839 (2008) and 1866 (2009)” – it omits a traditional phrase – “Abkhazia, Georgia” used in previous reports from the title, avoiding reference to the breakaway region’s status. Moscow and Sokhumi insisted that UN can no longer use the wording “Abkhazia, Georgia” after two of its member states – Russia and Nicaragua – recognized Abkhazia’s independence.
Another instance of change of wording is absence of term “de facto” when referring to the authorities in breakaway Abkhazia. The previous reports by UN Secretary General were using the term “de factor Abkhaz authorities”; while the recent report uses term “Abkhaz authorities.”
The report, however, mentions once UN mission with its official name, as it was known for over a decade – UN Observer Mission in Georgia.
The report by UN Secretary General to the Security Council on situation in Abkhazia was released on May 18 and was made public on May 20. The document is from the series of regular reports by the Secretary General ahead of the Security Council’s discussions on the matter. The Security Council has to decide about further presence of UN observers in the region before June 15, when the current four-month mandate of observers expires. UN observers are mandate to monitor situation across the Abkhaz administrative border on the both sides of the ceasefire line and also in Kodori Gorge, located inside breakaway Abkhazia.
The Secretary General’s recommendations to the Security Council on “revised security regime” mainly replicate those which were put by Ban Ki-moon in his previous report released in early February. And those recommendations were mainly in line with the 1994 Moscow agreement on ceasefire and separation of forces from which Georgia has pulled out after the August war.
Some new elements and specifications in the recommendations involve establishment of maritime security zones, extending 12 nautical miles off the coast and 12 km on each side. In the maritime security zones, according to the recommendations, there should be no naval vessels, with the exception of up to five coast guard patrol boats, or similar light craft.
Another new element is also a proposal to provide transparent arrangements, including access and provision of information, with regard to the military installations in Senaki in Samegrelo region and Ochamchire in breakaway Abkhazia.
Giga Bokeria, the Georgian deputy foreign minister, said on May 18 that although there were some positive elements in the report, the part of the document referring to the proposals on new security arrangement was “weak and inadequate.”
The report, which covers the period between February, 2009 and May, 2009, describes situation in the areas under the UN observers’ monitoring mandate – Gali district, Zugdidi district and Kodori Gorge.
It says that on April 7, 8 and 11, the UN monitors observed deployment of additional Russian troops and heavy military equipment by road and railway into the Gali and Ochamchire districts. Military equipment involved two squadrons of tanks, a battery of self-propelled artillery guns, one battery of surface-to-air missile systems and two batteries of multiple launch rocket systems, according to the report. Russia explained that it was a precautionary step in case of possible provocations by the Georgian authorities to distract public attention from the protests rallies in Tbilisi. UN observers said that that additional forces were withdrawn on April 15 and April 16.
On the Georgian side of the administrative border, according to UN observers, the Georgian Interior Ministry maintained approximately 250 personnel at 15 observation posts. The report also says that the Georgian Interior Ministry continued in the reporting period to deploy Cobra light armored vehicles, “some of which were used only occasionally” to patrol areas close to the administrative border. Of 27 Cobra vehicles present in the areas adjacent to Abkhazia, two are armed with machine guns, according to the report.
UN observers, according to the report, conducted four monitoring patrols in Kodori Gorge in February, March and April.
“The overall situation in the valley was assessed as calm,” the report reads. “The Abkhaz side continued to maintain control of the Kodori valley with the support of the Russian Federation forces.”
The Russian forces in upper Kodori Gorge, according to the report, are deployed mostly between Gentsvish village, where they maintain their headquarters, and the Khida and Kalamri-Sukhi passes, which provide access to the gorge from the Georgian-controlled side.
Citing the information provided by the Abkhaz side 130 residents remained in upper Kodori Gorge. Pre-August war estimation of local population was about 2,000. Three Georgian priests and four Georgian nuns were expelled from the village of Azhara in upper Kodori Gorge on 2 April. The Abkhaz side cited the clerics’ refusal to recognize the Abkhaz jurisdiction and clerical authority as a reason behind the decision.