Copyrighted material


by Omid Memarian

on the Georgia conflict

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- A few hours after the 15 member UN Security Council discussed a draft resolution aimed to ask Russia to stop using massive force in Georgia Monday evening behind closed doors, Russia said it would stop military action. This came Tuesday, after five days of bombing and destruction of cities and military bases in Georgia and the deaths of more than 2000 people.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that the military had punished Georgia enough for its attack on South Ossetia. Western-allied Georgia had launched an offensive late Thursday to regain control over the Georgian province with close ties to Russia.

The violence prompted the Security Council to meet five times over the course of the past four days to discuss the violence, which was feared to be spreading beyond the South Ossetia region.

"If there are any emerging hotbeds of resistance or any aggressive actions, you should take steps to destroy them," Medvedev instructed his military Tuesday.

Just before the Council meeting Monday, Bush harshly criticized the government in Moscow in a short statement from the White House. "I am deeply concerned by reports that Russian troops have moved beyond the zone of conflict, attacked the Georgian town of Gori, and are threatening the Georgia's capital of Tbilisi," he said. "There's evidence that Russian forces may soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the capital city."

On Aug. 9, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressed alarm over the escalation of hostilities in Georgia which have resulted in large numbers of casualties and massive destruction in South Ossetia and other regions of Georgia.

In a statement released late Monday, the government of Georgia appealed to the world community to stop the Russian aggression and assume responsibility for developments in the region. "Russian occupation forces have already gone beyond the conflict zone. Until recently Russia limited itself to aerial assaults outside of the boundaries of the conflict zone, however, now the Russian forces are attempting to seize the control of entire Georgia," the Georgian statement read. "Today the statehood of Georgia is in great danger, and, thereby, leaving existing world order in uncertainty."

"The Georgian government has accepted the elements of a peace agreement that the Russian government previously said it would be willing to accept: an immediate cease-fire, the withdrawal of forces from the zone of conflict, a return to the military status quo as of Aug. 6, and a commitment to refrain from using force," said Bush addressing a possible option to end the conflict.

Bush then criticized Russia's "objective" behind the attack, saying Russians actions "have raised serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region."

Questioning Russia's 'objective' embittered the U.S.-Russia interaction in the Security Council. On Aug. 10, Zelmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, and Vitaly Churkin his Russian counterpart barely avoided a heated exchange when Khalilzad referred to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's phone conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that morning as raising serious questions about Russia's objectives in the conflict.

Khalilzad mentioned that Lavrov had said that President Mikheil Saakashvili, the democratically elected President of Georgia, "must go." He said that it's "completely unacceptable" and "crossed the line."

Khalilzad asked Churkin, "Was Russia's objective regime change in Georgia, the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of that country?" adding that, "The Russian Federation was threatening Georgia's territorial integrity, and the Council must act decisively to reaffirm it."

In response Churkin described Khalilzad's statement as polemical in nature. "Regarding the ceasefire, the Russian Federation's statement had explained the formula that would lead to an end of bloodshed -- Georgia's withdrawal from South Ossetia and agreement on the non-use of force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia," said Churkin.

"Regime change" was an American expression that Russia did not use, Churkin stressed.

While the U.S. and Russia were using tough words in the Security Council, the Secretary-General urged all parties to immediately end hostilities and to engage, without delay, in negotiations to achieve a peaceful settlement. "For the success of this endeavour, all armed contingents which are not authorized by respective agreements on South Ossetia should leave the zone of conflict."

The Secretary-General also urged all parties to respect the principle of territorial integrity of states enshrined in the UN Charter and to refrain from actions that could undermine efforts to settle the longstanding conflicts in Georgia. Ban also called for immediate steps to be undertaken in order to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Georgia.

In the meantime -- despite bouts of driving rain -- hundreds of people were gathered in a peaceful protest outside UN headquarters to show their sympathy with the Georgians under fire and push for a Security Council decision.

Security Council members have not been able to agree on a draft resolution that Russia -- a veto holding member -- can agree to.

Meanwhile the deadly conflict in Georgia seems to be spreading outside the South Ossetia region and into Abkhazia, Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary- General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council, warning that the number of casualties from the fighting is already substantial.

Four days after the start of the conflict, there were reports of a massive number of civilians killed. While thousands of people have fled into neighboring cities in Georgia or North Ossetia.

To prevent a human tragedy in the conflict zone, the UN World Food Program (WFP) has begun providing critical humanitarian aid to more than 2,000 displaced people.

In response to a request from the Georgian Government, WFP distributed a 10-day food ration to internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in shelters in the capital, Tbilisi.

"The number of people in need of our help is rising by the hour," said WFP Georgia Country Director Lola Castro, adding that so far, 2,750 IDPs had been registered in Tbilisi alone. Many more people were living with relatives or in unofficial shelters.

Heavy fighting first erupted on Thursday night between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, leading to a large number of casualties and uprooting thousands from their homes.

WFP already has an existing food assistance operation in the country, targeting some 212,000 -- poor rural communities, primary school children, tuberculosis patients and people living with HIV/AIDS.

A joint assessment carried out Sunday by WFP and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Gori -- which has also been affected by the conflict -- found the Georgian town, with a reported population of about 40,000, to be almost deserted.

The number of IDPs is expected to rise to as many as 20,000, according to UNHCR, while about 5,000 South Ossetians have already fled to the neighboring North Ossetia-Alania region of Russia.

Lavrov reiterated Tuesday that Russia has ruled out negotiations with Saakashvili, insisting instead that he must step down and that Georgia must no longer have a peacekeeping presence in breakaway South Ossetia.

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Albion Monitor   August 12, 2008   (

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