Head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, March, 2012. Photo: EUMM
More than a month after Irakli Alasania of Georgian Dream opposition coalition leveled allegations against the authorities about setting up of “paramilitary groups”, EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), which has over 200 civilian observers on the ground, says that so far it “can neither confirm nor deny allegations of illegal armed groups in Western Georgia.”
In an email interview with Civil.ge, Head of EUMM Andrzej Tyszkiewicz said that very same position he had presented to the participants at the nineteenth round of Geneva discussions in late March. Email exchange for the interview took place between April 18 and May 3.
Q.: Irakli Alasania, the leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats party, alleged on 15 March that the Georgian authorities were setting up “paramilitary groups”; later the allegation was picked up by de facto authorities in Abkhazia and then also by Russian Federation’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who said Georgia had illegal armed formations close to the Abkhaz administrative boundary line (ABL). Has the EUMM looked into these allegations and tried to verify these allegations on the ground? Can the mission substantiate or negate these allegations?
A.: Looking into the internal politics of Georgia is not within the mandate of the EU Monitoring Mission. However, Mr. Alasania’s statements concern us because if substantiated, they have implications for stability and security. So far, we can neither confirm nor deny allegations of illegal armed groups in Western Georgia. This is exactly the position that I have presented to the participants at the recent Geneva discussions. Meanwhile, since we have over 200 civilian observers on the ground, we will continue to carry out our monitoring activities of the security situation in the areas adjacent to the Administrative Boundary Lines to ensure the safety and security of the local population.
Q.: Can you specify when did EUMM start looking into these allegations – after Mr. Alasania’s public statement on March 15? Or was the mission informed about these allegations by Mr. Alasania or by anyone else before the public statement was made?
A.: The Mission became aware of the specific allegations of Mr. Alasania’s only following his public statements. Of course, as part of the Mission’s normal activities we are monitoring the security situation on a permanent basis and as such we are concerned about anything that could have a possible negative impact on security and stability.
Q.: Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting in Gali, which was scheduled for April 24, was not held after Sokhumi’s refusal to participate; next day de facto authorities in Abkhazia announced about declaring you as “undesirable person on the territory of Abkhazia” and the Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 27, that Sokhumi’s claims against you have “its logic”. EU said in a statement on April 27, that “determination of the composition of the EU delegation at the IPRM meeting by another participant is unacceptable.” What implications do you think these developments may have on the future of Gali IPRM meetings? Does it mean that these meetings will be suspended for an indefinite time period or do you foresee their resumption in the near future?
A.: I can only repeat that we regret that the IPRM meeting on 24 April did not take place. It is a very unfortunate turn of events that is being addressed with the highest priority. The IPRMs have a very important role in allowing all participants to raise and discuss incidents and other security related issues and we very much hope that arrangements can be made for a continuation of these meetings in the very near future, for the benefit of all participants.
Q.: A shooting incident was reported close to the village of Ganmukhuri along the Abkhaz ABL on 4 March. In a statement on the next day EUMM said details were not clear and local reports contradictory; has the EUMM found out more details since then about what really happened? If not, what are the main obstacles that prevent EUMM from establishing actual facts in this case and in general in cases like this?
A.: We always take that kind of incident very seriously. In this particular case, we have been following up, contacting all security actors and the local population around the scene and we have brought the incident to the attention of the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting. One has to understand, however, that EUMM does not have an executive function and therefore not authorised to carry out criminal investigations, nor do we have the capacity. The Mission nonetheless will continue in its mandated role to monitor the overall security situation and follow up as quickly as possible on any incident that may threaten stability on the ground. However, to increase our effectiveness in this task we have to be informed immediately when incidents occur, we have to receive timely information from all the parties about their ongoing investigations; and, we have to be able to access the locations of incidents, regardless which side of the ABL they may be.
Q.: Do you expect any tangible results in the nearest future in respect of freedom of movement, especially across the S.Ossetian ABL, at least during, for example, the Easter or other holy days on the Orthodox calendar?
A.: Freedom of movement across the ABLs is a key issue for EUMM, especially during the period of religious activities, and therefore it is one of the main focuses of the Mission’s work. Over the last few months we have observed a tightening of the crossing regime at the South Ossetian ABL. The local population is mainly well aware of the restrictions, which was probably the main reason for fewer crossings during this Easter. We of course raise this issue and other issues related to freedom of movement regularly at IPRM meetings.
There have been however, some promising developments at the South Ossetian theatre. We had received reports of children and teachers who could not go to school because they had no Ossetian or Russian documents. This jeopardised the right to education, and some people reportedly were not even able to return to their homes for some days and had to stay with relatives. EUMM contacted the relevant structures and this issue was resolved without delay allowing pupils and teachers to cross again unimpeded.
Moreover, as the season of agricultural works is progressing, it is imperative for farmers to get access to their lands. Just recently participants of the IPRM meeting in the South Ossetian theatre have come together in the framework of a technical working group to address the security challenges that the population in the vicinity of the ABL faces in this regard. I would like to use this opportunity to express my appreciation to all the parties involved for their efforts, and hope that the population on both sides of the Administrative Boundary Line will benefit from this initiative. We have already received information from local farmers that they are now able to cultivate their lands.
Q.: The most recent major simultaneous release of detainees took place in late December 2011, when Tbilisi and Tskhinvali each freed thirteen persons. Detainees from the both sides still remain; has there been any progress since then in addressing this issue?
A.: There have been other cases of the simultaneous release of detainees since then – people who had been detained for inadvertently crossing the ABL. The whole issue of those detained and those in prison is regularly discussed at the monthly IPRM meetings. EUMM also uses the hotline to try and facilitate the release of those detained. I can see a gradual process in this respect. The persons who stay in custody for longer are usually suspected of other crimes by the authorities in charge but we also monitor these cases closely.
Q.: The Russian Federation is refusing to reciprocate Georgia’s unilateral non-use of force pledge, saying that it is not a party to the conflict. Your predecessor, Ambassador Hansjörg Haber, has once described Moscow’s position as “clearly absurd”; do you agree with that?
A.: I can only reiterate the standpoint of the European Union on this: the non-use of force pledge has to be entered into by those states recognized by the international community that are obligated under the Six Point Agreement namely Georgia and the Russian Federation.
Q.: Despite having a relevant mandate, EUMM is not able to access the breakaway regions for regular monitoring; as far as we know, there has been at least one instance when EU monitors were allowed to cross into the breakaway regions for a fact-finding visit to inspect particular incident site. How many such visits have been conducted by EUMM? Do you see it feasible to make such visits on regular bases?
A.: It is indeed unfortunate that we are unable to gain regular access to the territories of Abkhazia or South Ossetia. In the framework of fact finding visits, which have been agreed upon during the international discussions in Geneva, we have been invited a few times to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We would very much value the opportunity to have been able to carry out more fact finding visits, particularly regarding the recent violent incidents in Gali district - it would certainly have helped in defusing tensions and accusations and in the gathering of information about reported incidents. However, it must be stressed that when we do carry out such fact-finding visits we will continue to provide a completely impartial view of our findings.