EU Calls Russia's Cease-Fire Claims Overblown

ReutersHansjoerg Haber, head of the EU observers mission in Georgia, addressing a news conference in Brussels on Friday.
Most Russian claims that Georgia is violating a cease-fire agreement in the breakaway region of South Ossetia appear to be inflated, the head of the EU monitoring mission there said Friday.

Russia also needs to give more detailed information for European Union monitors to act, and so far Moscow has not even provided a telephone contact number, Hansjoerg Haber told reporters in Brussels.

Moscow has complained that Georgian troops have failed to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region, and have instigated shootings against Russian forces. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday accused the 225 EU cease-fire monitors of "taking a light-hearted view of the situation" following the two countries' brief war in August and called it "a dangerous game with fire."

"In general, the observation is that such reports are overblown," Haber said. "There may have been isolated shootings, but no major incidents have been registered."

Haber said the monitors needed details of purported violations. "We don't get any details from the Russians. We just get general allegations," he said.

"We literally don't have any telephone number on their side so far. We have been asking for it, and I will ask for it again," he said, adding that the mission has to communicate with the Russians via the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi.


Reuters
Kargiyev


In the latest violence in Georgia, an explosion killed Gia Mebonia, the mayor of the small town of Mujhava near Abkhazia, while he was inspecting a house damaged by overnight shelling early Saturday, Georgia's Interior Ministry said. A villager was also killed, and a local police officer was seriously injured, it said.

Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said authorities found an antenna near the blast site and suspect that the explosives were detonated by remote control. Utiashvili blamed separatists and their backers. "We are working now only on one version, and this is the Abkhaz and the Russians," Utiashvili said. "Nobody else."

A Defense Ministry spokesman in Moscow said he had no information about the blast.

EU observers, in the area to investigate the overnight shelling, were just 100 meters away when the blast hit, said a spokesman for the mission.

"An EU monitoring team was investigating reports of an alleged earlier incident during the night when explosions occurred near a house nearby," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with his job requirements. "There were reports of explosions and shooting."

Despite their proximity to the blast, the monitors were unable to determine its origin, the spokesman said.


Reuters
Grigoryev
Monitors found spent casings from rocket-propelled grenades near the scene of the attack. UN monitors were also nearby. Two white armored vehicles bearing the UN insignia can be seen very near the site of the explosion in the video footage. An official with the UN monitoring mission in the nearby town of Zugdidi declined comment.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili summoned a meeting of the National Security Council. "We are faced with an evil power," he said in televised comments from the Council session. "They are very disappointed they could not take Tbilisi and the whole of Georgia. That's why the risks remain high."

In another development, Georgia has outlawed investment in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and imposed entry restrictions on foreigners, under legislation designed to isolate the two regions.

The measures were included in legislation approved by parliament late Thursday that declared the two regions as occupied territories.

"This law describes the reality in these territories and the situation we face," said Givi Targamadze, head of the parliament's Defense and Security Committee. "If Europe shows solidarity with us, this law will work."

The legislation appears targeted primarily at the Russian investment and tourism that has propped up Abkhazia since it split from Georgia.

The law bans economic and commercial activities on the territory of both regions without the permission of the Georgian government. The sale and purchase of property is deemed illegal, as are banking operations.

Foreigners face prosecution if they enter the regions from Russia without the permission of the authorities in Tbilisi. Georgian permission is also required for humanitarian aid deliveries.

President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday appointed Semyon Grigoryev as ambassador to Abkhazia and Elbrus Kargiyev as ambassador South Ossetia.

Reuters, AP, MT