At UN on Abkhazia and Kosovo, Separatists and
Independence Muddied by Right to Return
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 13 -- The UN
Security Council on Friday unanimously passed a sixteen paragraph resolution on
situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.
The only explicit decision in the resolution was to extend the mandate of the UN
Observer Mission in Georgia for six months. But there had been joisting about
the so-called perambulatory paragraphs, the fifth of which "calls on" both
Georgia and "the Abkhaz size" to comply with and "exercise restraint in
connection with" ceasefire commitments in the upper Kodori valley.
Following the Council vote, Inner City
Press posed questions to the Ambassadors of Georgia, Russia and the United
States in turn. Not present, because over Russia's objections the U.S. declined
to grant a visa, was Sergei Shamba of "the Abkhaz side." At the time of the last
six-month extension of UNOMIG's mandate, the U.S. denied Shamba a visa -- after,
according to Russian Amb. Vitaly Churkin, having tried to condition the granting
of a visa on proposed changes to the last Abkhazia Security Council resolution.
Inner City Press on Friday asked each of
the Ambassadors about Mr. Shamba's absence, as this detail is an entree into not
only the Georgian conflicts, but also by contested analogy into Kosovo and the
so-called frozen conflicts. Georgian Ambassador Irakli Alasania said it
was strange that Russia, by advocating for Mr. Shamba's visa, was openly siding
with a separatist regime. Amb. Alasania also
emphasized the portion of the resolution which "stresses... the need for a
perspective of life in security and dignity in particular for a new generation
growing up outside Abkhazia, Georgia." The analogy to Palestine was inescapable,
as is was to Kosovo, which Inner City Press asked Amb.
Alasania about, in light of his reference to "separatist regimes."
Amb. Alasania declined to state Georgia's
position on independence for Kosovo. Video
Prime Minister at the UN during this push: Mr. Shamba not shown, nor present
Amb. Vitaly Churkin emphasized that part of the resolution which praises "the
CIS peacekeepers" -- largely Russians -- and explained his advocacy for Mr.
Shamba's visa by saying "we didn't want to be in the position of speaking for
the Abkhaz side," an argument with a certain logic. Inner City Press asked Amb.
Churkin to comment on Georgia's position on independence for Kosovo. "They are
torn," Amb. Churkin observed. Video
The elephant in the Security Council chamber is that if the UN starts awarding
independence to part of what had previously been sovereign countries, it may
become untenable to distinguish "separatists" (with few to no rights) from
"legitimate aspirers to independence."
City Press asked U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff to explain a comment by State
Department spokesman Scott McCormack, that perhaps after the UN passed this
resolution, Mr. Shamba could participate in a "Geneva style" proceeding about
Abkhazia. Amb. Wolff said that "the timing was inappropriate" for Shamba to
come. A staffer shrugged, the "Geneva style" issue has no traction. Amb. Churkin
said Mr. Shamba is no longer interested in the offer, the time for entry was
in the week, the foreign ministers of South Ossentia,
Abkhazia and Transdnistria -- Murad Dzhioyev, Sergei Shamba and Valeri
Litskai, respectively -- were slated to meet in Sukhumi, forming their
Association For Democracy and Peoples Rights, a/k/a Club of Breakaway Republics.
Some wondered why Nagorno-Karabakh is not included. The meeting was postponed,
due both to the hospitalization of Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh and to a
decision to wait for the now-concluded vote of the UN Security Council on the
extension of the UN's Mission to Georgia. Now what will the breakaways do?
Ki-moon with the EU's Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Ban Ki-moon and then briefing the press Friday was Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner,
European Union Commissioner for External Relations and European
Neighborhood Policy. It was propitious:
Ms. Ferrero-Waldner had been quoted earlier
in the week that the EU will now "take on a more active role through increased
political involvement in ongoing efforts to address the conflicts in
Transdnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno- Karabakh." Inner City Press
asked her about the quote and, since she previously served in the UN's Protocol
Office, about the exclusion of "Abkhaz Foreign Minister" Shamba.
Telegraphing her and the EU's position, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner began by saying that
Abkhazia is not a country and so cannot have a foreign minister, thus Shamba's
exclusion was fine. She went on to say that the EU wants to help the economies
in the frozen conflict zones -- "as you know well, it is not easy," she told
Inner City Press, video
This tracks the UN Security Council resolution which "stress[es] that economic
development is urgently required in Abkhazia, Georgia," and implies that
separatist tendencies might be forestalled by a more vibrant economy.
But as to
Kosovo, the argument by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari and
others is that the economy cannot develop until independence is given. The
distinction has yet to be clarified. The questions will continue.
UN / Kosovo update: Friday at the UN,
EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner misspoke
when she said that the EU is entirely unified in support of
Ahtisaari's plan for Kosovo independence -- it's
that Slovakia is not on board. But Ms.
Ferrero-Waldner's press conference was too
short to nail this down, video
evening UK Amb. Emyr Jones Parry told Inner City Press the Council's mission to
Pristina and Belgrade will be "the week after next," and will be led by
Belgium. Friday, Inner City Press asked Russian Amb. Churkin, who said he
preferred Amb. Jones Parry to speak, as this month's President of the Council.
Amb. Jones Parry did not come out to speak to reporters following the Council's
Friday morning meetings. At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked
spokesperson Marie Okabe about "the trip" -- she quickly corrected, "you mean
the mission" -- and she against referred back to the Council. And who in the
Secretariat will prepare the report on the implementation of Resolution 1244? No
answer to that either, video
As before, the questions will continue.
With Abkhazia at the UN, Breakaway Republics' Club is
Waiting, Disputes on Visas, Genocide and Kosovo
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, April 10 -- As the UN
Security Council on Tuesday
discussed the breakaway republic of
Abkhazia, Georgia, the U.S. and
Russian Ambassadors traded diplomatic barbs about a man who wasn't there.
Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba, it having been made clear that no U.S.
visa would be granted, appeared by written text and, it was said, a compact disk
that would be given to all Council members. Inner City Press asked U.S.
Ambassador Alejandro Wolff if he had the c.d. and would watch it. [It is in
Russian with English subtitles; its final line is that "the recognition of
independence of Abkhazia and other republics such as South Ossetia and
Transdniestria would be a logical conclusion of this process." Click
here to see
Mr. Shamba himself.]
Wolff said that Russian Ambassador Churkin was being "mischievous" and making
"theater," by ignoring speakers in chamber and walking out of the Council.
Amb. Churkin laughed when told of this
characterization. "I have to be very careful walking around this building," he
said, recounting that he left to deliver a speech in the First Committee of the
General Assembly, about disarmament, pursuant to Russia's "important political
and intellectual role" on the issue.
was a momentary opening to bring several UN issues together, and Inner City
Press took it, asking Amb. Churkin if he had seen a photo exhibition about
Abkhazia that is up on the walls in the UN's basement by the Vienna Cafe. The
exhibit includes photos of Georgians being shot and killed in the streets of the
Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi in 1993, and
includes not-entirely-clear quotes about genocide and ethnic cleansing.
"Yes," Amb. Churkin replied. "It's
one-sided. It's unhelpful... One side is engaged in a massive campaign. But they
chose to do it."
"But you don't think that
countries should block each other's exhibition," asked Inner City Press,
Turkey's blocking earlier in the week of a
memorial to the Rwandan genocide,
due to a reference to "one million Armenians murdered in Turkey."
"I don't want to generalize," Amb.
Churkin said. He again called the Georgian exhibit "unhelpful" and "bad
propaganda," but said Russia had "decided it was not the situation we should
shake the tree."
One observer noted that Russia
should be given credit for not trying to have the exhibition cancelled. China,
for example, did try to cancel an exhibition sponsored by a non-governmental
organization from Taiwan, and more recently got a Taiwanese presentation removed
from a UN web cast, click
analogize between China's position on Taiwan and Turkey's activism in opposing
any characterization of Armenians' deaths just before and during World War I as
a genocide. The same word, applied in Georgia's exhibition about Abkhazia, does
not draw the same vehemence from Russia. Perhaps it is because Russia has a
handful of such issues, from Chechnya (which it wants to keep) to Kosovo (which
it wants Serbia to be able to keep) to South Ossentia (which, like Abkhazia,
Russia would like to see break away from Georgia).
U.S. Ambassador Wolff disputed Russia's
analogy between Abkhazia and Kosovo. Amb. Churkin had said, Imagine the Security
Council considering Kosovo while only hearing from the Serbian side. Last week
the Council heard the Kosovar position, albeit in a non-formal Arria style
wonder: what is the distinction in barring the Abkhaz side, other than
the foreign policy of the host country? And what is the difference between
Georgia's Abkhazia exhibition's use of graphic photos, for example of a dozen
men shot dead and bleeding on the ground in September 1993, and of the word
genocide and the unceremoniously postponed Rwanda exhibit, with its inclusion of
"one million Armenians murdered in Turkey" on a display headed, "Genocide: whose
doctors try to heal in Gali (more graphic photos on display in UN hallway)
For the record, the mandate of
the UN's Mission to Georgia is set to expire on April 15, so a vote to extend it
is expected on Friday, April 13. In town to do Russia's heavy lifting is their
specialist on Abkhazia,
Vladislav Chernov. In New York on Tuesday, Mr. Chernov told reporters to
expect the investigative report on the Kodori Gorge military incidents -- which
include alleged Russian use of helicopter gunships -- in two weeks.
thumbnail background is that Abkhazia de facto broke away from Georgia in
September 1993. The Georgian exhibition currently on display at the UN states
that "under threat of death the local inhabitants were expelled from the
territory of Abkhazia," and puts the number of expellees at 250,000 Georgians
and 100,000 others, listing "Russians, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Ukrainians and
Estonians." With the mixing of territories and religions, one wag wonders if
there is not some double-counting. One exhibit mis-spells the word "seazure"
(for seizure), calling into question the statement that all such exhibition are
reviewed by the UN Department of Public Information, click
for that statement.
The Georgian exhibition includes a 1993 quote
attributed to Russia's then-foreign minister, that "Everything, that is
happening in Sukhumi is ethnic cleansing." Given that it is Georgia, and not
Russia, which states that votes held in Abkhazia are illegitimate because of the
ethnic cleansing of ethnic Georgians, the quote seems strange, purportedly
having come for a Russian foreign minister.
Inner City Press asked the Russian mission's spokeswoman, who in turn asked
rhetorically, ethnic cleansing of whom, by whom? "That's what you should ask
him," she said. But Georgian Prime Minister Mr.
spoke only very briefing to reporters outside the Security Council. Inner City
Press asked about
Georgia's lawsuit against Russia in the
European Court of Human Rights.
The Georgia Prime Minister refused to comment on the case. Click
for the Court's Registrar's
release on the "Inter-state
application brought by Georgia against the Russian Federation."
While the Security Council was meeting on
Tuesday, the foreign ministers of South Ossentia, Abkhazia and Transdniestria --
Murad Dzhioyev, Sergei Shamba and Valeri Litskai, respectively -- were
slated to meet in Sukhumi, forming their Association For Democracy and Peoples
Rights, a/k/a Club of Breakaway Republics. Some wonder why Nagorno-Karabakh is
not included. In any event for now the meeting was reportedly
postponed, due both to the hospitalization of Abkhaz president Sergei
Bagapsh and to a decision to wait for the Security Council slated Friday vote on
its extension of the UN's Mission to Georgia. At deadline, the Abkhaz
called the breakaways' meeting "ongoing." We'll see.
UN Office: S-453A,
UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439
(and weekends): 718-716-3540
U.S. Exclusion of Abkhazia Minister Explained, While
Gunship Mystery Continues, Russia in the Wings
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 5 -- In the run up
to next week's Security Council meeting on Abkhazia and Georgia, Inner City
Press on Thursday asked U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff about the
host country's previous denial of a visa
to Abkhazia's foreign minister.
Amb. Wolff answered, in essence, we did it because we could. From the
Press: On Abkhazia, if the self-styled prime minister of Abkhazia sought to
attend, would the host country grant him a visa, at this time?
Wolff: The issue hasn't come up.
Press: Could you say why in the past the U.S. didn't do it? Ambassador Churkin
has said that last time, six months ago, when they met on the extension, that he
was not allowed to attend.
Wolff: We have a political process underway through a group called the friends
of Georgia, that's focusing on conflict resolution and negotiations with the
parties, there are considerations related to that, and all members except the
Russian Federation believe that the timing is not appropriate, that it would be
counter productive, that it would not contribute to the efforts underway to try
to deal with this issue through a conflict resolution process that the Friends
With Friends like these... The
just-issued Secretary General's report on Abkhazia mentions a Geneva meeting of
the Group of Friends, chaired by UN Peacekeeping's Jean-Marie Guehenno, with the
participation of Abkhazia's "de facto Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba." So
apparently, this "de facto" foreign minister can attended UN-chaired meetings in
Geneva, but cannot enter the United States. At least not at this time.
The Abkhazia report also recites that
"late in the evening of 11 March... five helicopters has approached the upper
Kodori valley from the north and fired rockets at the villages of Chkhalta and
Adjara... The investigation is still in progress."
The alleged motive is that the target was
the seat of the pro-Georgia Abkhaz government-in-exile, which was commissioned
by Georgian president Saakashvili.
compound, fired on
Abkhazia is a breakaway republic of Georgia, which some say broke away from the
USSR, the Upper Kodori Gorge is a breakaway from the rest of Abkhazia: a three-fer,
if you will.) The alleged culprit, deployer of gunship helicopters, is Russia.
Ambassador Wolff was asked:
been allegations in various things, that it was the Russians. But, how seriously
is the U.S., but also the Security Council, taking this issue, if it does turn
out that a permanent member of the Security Council might have been involved in
firing helicopter gun ships in another country's territory, what kind of
recourse might there be, what kind of discussions might we be seeing, you know,
over the coming days?
Wolff: Well, I've not seen any conclusions from the report yet, I know there's
an investigation either way. Clearly, as you stated, any attack on a sovereign
country is to be taken very seriously, we will evaluate the reports, we will be
discussing it with the experts who conducted it, we have a meeting set up next
week as you know on the renewal of UNOMIG, the Georgian prime minister will
come, we'll hear from special representative Arnault, and I'm sure this will
figure prominently in our exchanges to try to get to the bottom of this.
But again, breakaway
Abkhazia's "de facto" Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba will not be present,
according to Amb. Wolff's response. "At least you got an answer," another
correspondent whispered to Inner City Press. It was not so easy getting a quote
from the UN about its follow-through on its statement, following the military
coup in Fiji in late 2006, that it would not use more Fijian troops as
peacekeepers until democracy was restored. Click
for that story. And while UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry stopped to take a
question about the UK's policy on whether the UN, post-coup, should use Fijian
peacekeepers, his answer was, "I won't know if we have a policy on that."
Honest, at least.
At the UN, Kosovo Questions Glean Abkhaz Visa
Answers, Arria-Style Then and Now
Byline: Matthew Russell
Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- After a full
day of positioning in the Security Council on resolving Kosovo's status, the
question of what precedent independence for Kosovo would set inevitably arose.
Inner City Press asked U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff how, for example, Kosovo
and Serbia could be distinguished from Abkhazia and Georgia, and secondarily,
why the U.S. had
denied a visa to the (self-styled) Foreign Minister of the (breakaway)
Republic of Abkhazia. Amb. Wolff on-camera responded to the precedent question,
while not explaining the visa denial.
Amb. Wolff pointed out that Kosovo has
been administered by the U.N. for seven to eight years. In response to a
question of whether the U.S. believes that international law permits the
Security Council to grant independence to a part of a previously sovereign
country, Amb. Wolff said that the Security Council is international law.
This is a statement that will need some follow-up.
A skirmish earlier in the day concerned
whether Kosovo's president could sit at the Council table. Russia objected --
resolution 1244 says that only the UN Special Representative can speak for
Kosovo during this period -- and so a so-called Arria style proceeding was
convened, not in the Council chamber, and not officially a Council meeting. (Pay
attention, because this distinction will return.)
Next up was Martti Ahtisaari, who joked
that he hoped there were no questions left for him. There were, of course,
questions, including from Inner City Press whether he deems productive Russia's
two suggestions, that the Council members visit the region, and get a report on
implementation of Resolution 1244. Mr. Ahtisaari answered diplomatically that it
is entirely up to the Council.
UK Ambassador Emyr Jones
Parry, the Council's president this month, patiently took questions. He said the
day had been productive. On the question, from Inner City Press, of Kosovo as
precedent, Amb. Jones Parry went back to 1389 (the year, not the resolution),
then said that in 1989 Milosevic "threw a bomb," leading to the next "twenty
years" -- he corrected himself, "eighteen years." But what then of
Boys with bread
After Amb. Wolff had ceded the stakeout
microphone to Mr. Ahtisaari, a U.S. official who asked to be identified as such
explained that the U.S. visa had been denied to the so-called Foreign Minister
of Abkhazia without violating the U.S.'s obligations as UN host country.
Abkhazia is not a country, he said, and the (non-) foreign minister wasn't
seeking to travel to an official Security Council or UN meeting, but rather an
Arria style meeting. (Yes, see foreshadowing above.) "For bilateral
reasons, the visa was denied," he said.
in October 2006, Russian
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that the U.S. had offered to grant the visa if
Russia would agree to certain U.S.-favored changes in the then-draft resolution
to extend the U.N. mission in Georgia for another six months. That day, Inner
City Press asked Amb. Churkin if he would file a complaint with the UN's Host
Country Committee. Amb. Churkin said yes, but there's no evidence that he did,
and now the U.S. argues that its duties as host country were not implicated, due
in part because it was an Arria style meeting that he sought to attend. As
another blast from the past -- though not all the way back to 1389 -- click
for the video as Inner City Press asked then-Ambassador John Bolton about the
U.S.'s denial of visa. From the U.S. prepared transcript:
Press: On Georgia, Ambassador Churkin said that the Abkhaz foreign ministry
called him, a person from Abkhazia. Was the U.S. embassy in Moscow didn't give
him a visa in exchange for somehow changing the language of the resolution on
Georgia -- is that your understanding of what happened? He said it right here.
Bolton: I have -- yeah, you know, I have no idea what that's about.
Sources told Inner City Press, however,
that not only had Amb. Churkin made his statement about the visa in a televised
interview which the U.S. State Department presumably monitors, but also that the
visa issue had been discussed in the Security Council consultations prior to Amb.
Bolton's above-quoted answer. Can what is said outside the chamber be
Back in October 2006, the U.N.
Mission in Georgia was extended for six months, which now run out mid-April. In
the interim, there are allegations of Russian helicopter gunship firing in the
Georgia has filed suit in the European
Court of Human Rights for
Russia's round-up and deportation of Georgia. In the Council, and not only on
Kosovo, expect fireworks.
UN Keeps Peacekeepers from Post-Coup Fiji, Has No
Comment On Role in Bangladesh Coup
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- One of Kofi Annan's final
acts as Secretary General was to say the UN would not use troops from post-coup
Fiji as peacekeepers. Tuesday Inner City Press asked the spokesperson for
Annan's successor Ban Ki-moon to confirm or deny that Mr. Ban has changed this
policy, and has told the head of the Commonwealth that "we need these troops."
"I cannot confirm this at this
point," the spokesperson said. Video
from Minute 10:05. From the
Inner City Press: There was a
the head of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, saying he spoke with Ban Ki-moon
about the Fijian peacekeepers, and again asked him to either enforce or
implement the idea that peacekeepers, following the coup, wouldn’t be used by
DPKO. He said, and I'm not sure if it's true or not, "Don, we need the
peacekeepers," Mr. Ban said. Did Mr. Ban say that?
I cannot confirm this at this point. I cannot confirm this at this point. I
think we have to stop here because Mr. Guehenno is with us right now.
In the same briefing,
Inner City Press asked Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie
Guehenno to describe his Department's policy on employing Fijian soldiers. Mr.
Guehenno rolled his eyes -- video
Minute 30:15 -- and then said that he would not comment on the matter.
It would appear that the policy announced
by Kofi Annan has changed. Beyond the post-coup issues in Fiji, there are
unanswered questions about Bangladesh' coup. On February 22, Inner City Press
asked both DPKO spokesmen
"about the peacekeepers from Fiji headed
to Sinai and Sudan (Q: was this in the works before the coup? What if anything
is being done on the Dec. 2006 statement that the coup could impact Fiji's
status as troop contributor?) and, more pertinent to this message, about the
Economist's recent article about a Jan. 10 communication from the UN to the
military in Bangladesh, which
the Economist concludes
may have helped lead to a coup. Does DPKO have no idea what communication the
Economist was referring to? If DPKO wasn't the origin of the 'UN' communication,
which agency or individual might have been? Please comment."
Neither DPKO spokesman, however, provided
as respect, vs. silence on Fiji and Bangladesh
is currently recruiting for a "small" (50 to 100 people) permanent "standing"
police force, to send to global hot-spots on very little notice. It's a
miniature or pilot version of an idea pitched by Sir Brian Urqhart, who called
it a standing rapid deployment force. Unlike the apparent backsliding on Fiji,
the standing force is a story which might make DPKO look good. But secrecy now
seems to rule the day. The Bangladesh story has been
against this backdrop that the United Nations, worried about the possibility of
a sham election, sent an uncharacteristic letter to the Bangladesh military
chief, Lieutenant General Moeen U Ahmed, warning him that he would seriously
risk his forces’ peacekeeping contracts with the UN if he agreed to provide
security for the elections. The Bangladesh Army contributes over 10,000
peacekeepers to the UN – more than any other country in the world -- and rakes
in a massive USD 300 million a year in peacekeeping contracts. It was no
surprise, then, that by the evening of 11 January, Lt Gen Ahmed had ordered
President Iajuddin Ahmed to cancel the election and place Bangladesh under a
state of emergency -- and to put in place a military-backed regime, which
subsequently promised a massive cleanup of the country’s politics before any new
of cleanups, we will have more in coming days about what brought Mr. Guehenno to
the UN's briefing room on Tuesday: landmines and unexploded remnants of war.
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