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Shootout in Abkhazia Triggers Georgian Accusations, Missile Mystery Will Rise Again

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 21 -- Another incident has taken place in Georgia, a shootout along the road to Upper Abkhazia, and at the UN another press conference has hastily been called. Georgian Ambassador Irakli Alasania read out a statement and then took five minutes of questions from Inner City Press, about this incident, the missile near South Ossetia, and the "patriotic youth camp" in Ganmukhuri, which the UN had called on to be shut down and moved. "Now the camp is closed," Amb. Alasania said. "Summer is out and the issue has lost its relevance." But some disputes just go on and on.

            In his statement, Amb. Alasania recounted that

"Yesterday at approximately 11:30 am Georgian Interior Ministry police units came under attack generated by the armed Abkhaz separatist militants in the vicinity of the road connecting Svaneti region and Upper Abkhazia. The incident took place beyond the territory of the Abkhaz Autonomous Republic at the bottom of the north-east slope of Khojali Mountain. As a result of the confrontation, two separatist militants were killed, one was wounded and seven of them were taken in to the custody."

            Going beyond this statement, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Vano Merabishvili has been quoted that that "head of the group and one of its members are liquidated, and six people are detained. The detainees had no documents so their personality is unknown yet. There are representatives of different nationalities among the detainees however their leader was Russian."

            How a dead man with no documents can so quickly be identified as Russian is not known. And now names, but only of those captured, have been released:

"According to press service of MIA the detainees are: Ronald Chagava, serving in Sokhumi, Mukhamedin Kichov, serving in Ochamchire security service, Suren Dilenyan, serving in Psou security service, Irakli Khorava, serving in security detachment in Shukhura settlement, Zurab Muradyan, serving in security service, Jambul Ovanesyan, serving in security service of Ochamchire port, Koba Cherkezia, serving in security service in Shukura settlement."

   On Georgia's request to present to the Security Council its case that Russia dropped a missile near South Ossetia, Amb. Alasania said that the request has not been rescinded and "is still valid."

            Inner City Press asked if Georgia has stopped pushing for a Security Council meeting on the topic, as a Council diplomat has said. France's Ambassador said that no country had even asked to put it on September's agenda. Amb. Alasania said it is his understanding that the Council is waiting for more information, and that Georgia will "wait until the end of the month and then take up the issue" again. Video here, from Minute 3:53.

Swimming in Abkhazia, summer (camp) is gone

            As to Thursday's events, there is of course another view. The "de facto president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia," Sergey Bagapsh,  has said that Georgian forces attacked the border guard training camp in an adjacent district, some 10 kilometer off the road.  This factual dispute is one that the UN and his mission in Georgia, UNOMIG, should be able to resolve . Amb. Alasania said he spoke "yesterday with the Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations." [That would be Jean-Marie Guehenno, seen Thursday strolling in front of the Security Council stakeout with CNN's Richard Quest, as UN TV was told not to film him as he spoke about Bunia in the Congo.]

   At Friday's noon briefing, a statement was rushed in and handed to Spokesperson Michele Montas, that

The Secretary-General is concerned by reports of an incident yesterday between Georgian Ministry of the Interior units and Abkhaz de facto personnel, which reportedly left two Abkhaz dead, several wounded and a number taken prisoner. The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) is in the process of conducting an investigation. The Secretary-General calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to prevent any further escalation of the situation.

            Amb. Alasania also referred on Friday to an earlier conversation with Ban Ki-moon, about the patriotic youth camp, stating that Mr. Ban said his only concern was for the safety of the youth people in the camp. But the Secretary General's report, dated July 18, 2007, states that "UNOMIG has observed increased activity and posturing on both sides of the ceasefire line in the vicinity of the camp, including off the coast. In order to reduce the possibility of incidents, the UN joins the Group of Friends in calling on the Government of Georgia to move the camp away from the security zone."

            When building a camp causes "posturing on both sides," the camp could be called a provocation. So, of course, could a missile, or this most recent incident. We note that the UN's July 18 report said of road construction that "one report of a violation was issued to the Georgian side for the presence of a military truck." Now both Georgia and Russia have called for an investigation. Where the people were when they were shot, and who they are, should be able to be determined.  We'll continue on this story.

* * *

  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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