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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Frets Refugee Safety in Georgia




UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council has decided to keep UN observers in Georgia for another six months and expressed concern for the safety of refugees wishing to return to the breakaway province of Abkhazia.


In a unanimous resolution Thursday, the council also condemned "activities of armed groups" that included laying mines and "deplored" the lack of serious efforts to end them.


Georgia's foreign minister, Irakly Menagarishvili, urged the council to go further, suggesting that the United Nations take on a bigger role in seeing through a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict on the Black Sea coast.


"Neither bilateral nor trilateral negotiations have yielded results," Menagarishvili told the council in an open meeting.


Georgia and Abkhazia have been locked in a bitter conflict that began soon after Georgia gained independence in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Abkhazia declared an independent republic after driving out Georgian government forces in 1993, following a 13-month war that killed about 10,000 people.


About 300,000 ethnic Georgians fled Abkhazia during that campaign, which was backed by mercenaries and arms from Russia's northern Caucasus region.


Abkhazia recently offered to help the refugees return after March 1, but Georgia is concerned that the their safety won't be guaranteed.


Menagarishvili said the Security Council should do much more to pressure Abkhaz separatists into a settlement, including consideration of an administration under international control to make sure refugees driven out of the region could return.


He said the international community should warn the Abkhaz side that attempts to obstruct refugees' return "will be viewed as the continuation of the policy of ethnic cleansing," and suggested that might prompt the council to take military action.


The council made no such threat Thursday, saying in the resolution that it reaffirmed "the imprescriptible right of all refugees and displaced persons affected by the conflict to return to their homes in secure conditions in accordance with international law."


The council said it would keep the 100-member observer force in the region until July 31 to monitor the truce between government forces and the separatists.


A separate force of Russian-led peacekeepers has been in place since 1994, but sporadic clashes have continued.


Menagarishvili on Thursday repeated his government's position that the force, fielded by the Commonwealth of Independent States, should leave "because it has already exhausted itself" in trying to establish peace.


UN-mediated talks between the government and Abkhaz leaders have failed to resolve the dispute.