‘Geographical Extension’ of OSCE Mandate in South Ossetia not Foreseen

OSCE might increase the number
of its military observers in the
South Ossetian conflict zone.

Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili met her Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Passy, who also is the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, in Sofia on September 10, in a bid to secure more international support in resolving the South Ossetian conflict. But Georgia’s request regarding a geographical extension of the OSCE mandate throughout the entire South Ossetian region is not foreseen to be met anytime in the near future. In the interim period, Georgia can expect only an increase in the number of OSCE military observers in the conflict zone – the issue which causes no controversy between the conflicting sides.

The OSCE Permanent Council will discuss the situation in breakaway South Ossetia at a session on September 16; particularly the possibility of an increase in the presence of OSCE military observers in the South Ossetian conflict zone from the current five to twenty. At the moment, five full-time military observers are deployed in one observation point located on one of the strategic heights near the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

20 ambassadors accredited at the OSCE paid a fact-finding visit to Georgia on September 5-9, following a request by the Georgian side. The OSCE ambassadors held talks with the Georgian leadership and also visited Tskhinvali, Sokhumi (capital of Georgia’s another breakaway region of Abkhazia) and traveled to the sections of the Georgian-Russian border which are monitored by the OSCE observers. The Ambassadors will inform the Permanent Council over the results of the visit.

Georgia’s main request for the OSCE at the moment is to expand the organization’s mandate throughout the entire territory of breakaway South Ossetia, particularly monitoring of the Roki Pass, which links South Ossetia with its neighboring North Ossetian Republic, which is part of the Russian Federation. Tbilisi claims that arms and mercenaries are smuggled into the breakaway region from Russia via the Roki Pass.

At the moment the OSCE military observers, as well as the joint peacekeeping forces, which are composed of Georgian, Russian and Ossetian troops (500 soldiers from each side) are monitoring only the conflict zone, which covers the territory from the center of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali and extends to a 15-kilometer radius, as defined by a 1992 agreement. This zone unites over 40 villages.

But the Georgian side is seeking to expand both the joint peacekeeping forces’ and the OSCE’s mandate to include the entire breakaway region, so that it could cover two crucial areas – the Roki Pass and the Java District of South Ossetia. This latter is regarded to be the stronghold for South Ossetian militia groups.

During a meeting between the South Ossetian de facto President Eduard Kokoev and the visiting OSCE ambassadors on September 8, the South Ossetian side reaffirmed its position once again that Tskhinvali will not support “geographical extensions” of the OSCE’s mandate in South Ossetia, while authorities in breakaway region have no objections regarding an increase in the number of OSCE military observers within the conflict zone.

Tskhinvali’s position fully coincides with Moscow’s stance over this issue. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s special Ambassador Lev Mironov, who was actively engaged in all the recent talks over South Ossetia reiterated Russia’s position on September 10 and said that the “expansion of the current mandate will be counterproductive.”

The Press and Information Committee within the South Ossetian unrecognized republic reported that Eduard Kokoev stressed the importance of the international organizations in the process of settling the conflict; however he also noted that the OSCE fails “to fully use its capacities.”

He also accused the OSCE of siding with the Georgian side. “Very often during the joint monitoring [conducted by the joint peacekeeping troops and observers from the OSCE], the representatives of the OSCE refuses to detect the Georgian side’s violations in the conflict zone,” Eduard Kokoev stated.

The OSCE itself seems to be cautions over the geographical expansion of its mandate in the short-term period. Demilitarization of the conflict zone is the top priority for the organization at the moment. Despite relative peace, which has persisted in the conflict zone since late August, both the South Ossetian and Georgian sides continue to fix fortifications and to mine the territories, according to the OSCE Mission in Georgia. The OSCE believes it is possible to discuss political issues between the conflicting sides only after the total stabilization of the situation in the region.

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