Asia Crisis

Georgia says UN's Ban blackmailed by Russia

UNITED NATIONS, May 27 (Reuters) - Georgia lashed out at the United Nations and Russia on Wednesday, accusing Moscow of blackmailing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make a significant change in his latest report on the Caucasus state.

Ban, on May 18, outlined the present security situation and recommendations for keeping the fragile peace between the former Soviet republic of Georgia and its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

However, in a departure from past practice of referring to Abkhazia as part of Georgia, there was no such formulation in Ban's latest report to the U.N. Security Council. Abkhazia objects to any implication it is under Tbilisi's control, a position Russia has vehemently defended.

While the dispute is over the wording of a U.N. report, it highlights the intense animosity that remains between NATO-aspirant Georgia and its former master Russia, which invaded its southern neighbor during a war last August.

"It is very unfortunate (and) alarming that the (U.N.) Secretariat submitted to the Russian blackmail," Georgia's U.N. Ambassador, Alexander Lomaia told, Reuters.

Ban's report proposed a compromise that has allowed Russia and the two regions to rejoin talks in Geneva over security arrangements. Representatives of Russia and South Ossetia had walked out of those talks in sympathy with Abkhazia.

"We are troubled by the fact that the last round (of) Geneva talks were used by Russia to manipulate ... both the title and content of the report," Lomaia said.

Tbilisi sees this as an erosion of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which declared independence last year.

Georgia and Russia's brief war was fought over the breakaway region South Ossetia. It drew intense interest from Western states as the fighting put in jeopardy a key transit route for Caspian oil and gas, which bypasses Russia.

The U.N. mission of 129 military observers and 16 police advisors in Abkhazia expires on June 15. The Security Council must renew its mandate with a fresh resolution or pull out.

"They told him (Ban) that we (Russia) will veto the resolution," Lomaia told Reuters, citing a source in Ban's office. He declined to identify the source.

Russia rejected Lomaia's assertions. "We dismiss these false accusations that do not have anything to do with the real state of things," a spokesman for the Russian mission said.

Ban's office, in response to a question from Reuters, cited the U.N. charter that states it cannot seek or receive instructions from any government.

"It was the Secretary-General's own decision to rename the report," a U.N. official said. "His concern was to find a neutral title that would be acceptable or least offensive to the parties involved."