June 22, 2009 / 6:27 PM / 11 years ago

Georgia conflict "could erupt again" - thinktank

By Matt Robinson

TBILISI, June 22 (Reuters) - The absence of U.N. and OSCE monitors from Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia could aggravate tensions and lead to new "full-blown hostilities", a Brussels-based thinktank said on Monday.

The International Crisis Group said Russia’s consolidation of its military presence in both regions, and its refusal to endorse the continuation of U.N. and OSCE monitoring in their current form posed a threat to security.

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war last August, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which like Abkhazia threw off Tbilisi’s rule in the early 1990s.

"... violent incidents and the lack of an effective security regime in and around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia create a dangerous atmosphere in which extensive fighting could erupt again," the ICG said in a policy briefing.

"Russia has not complied with the main points of the truce, and the sides have not engaged in meaningful negotiations to stabilise the situation."

Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after the war, and stationed thousands of troops in both regions despite an EU-brokered ceasefire agreement that called on Russian forces to pull back to their pre-war positions.

DISPLACED

Russia last week vetoed a Western-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of some 130 U.N. monitors in Abkhazia, saying the text reaffirmed Georgia’s territorial integrity and was therefore unacceptable.

Military monitors of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who operated in South Ossetia up until the war, are to leave Georgia by June 30 after negotiations to extend their mandate broke down.

Russia insisted the OSCE South Ossetia monitors be separated from the mission in Georgia. If both missions leave, the European Union will be alone with 225 monitors patrolling up to the de facto borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but not beyond after separatist authorities denied them access.

The ICG warned that the departure of U.N. monitors from Abkhazia might contribute to a feeling of insecurity among the estimated 40,000 ethnic Georgians and Megrelians in Abkhazia, "and prompt many to flee to the rest of Georgia".

It urged Russia to step up efforts to allow the return of displaced persons, particularly around 25,000 ethnic Georgians from South Ossetia who fled what rights groups said was "ethnic cleansing" by Ossetian militias and are still unable to return.

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