Georgia: Security agreement does little to ease fear in border villages
|Publication Date||24 February 2009|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, Georgia: Security agreement does little to ease fear in border villages, 24 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49b7bf7bc.html [accessed 9 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Molly Corso: 2/24/09
Western governments have hailed a recent multilateral agreement on security in Georgia's sensitive border zones with breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but residents in one Georgian frontline village doubt that the agreement will restore any sense of peace.
While diplomats talk details, the 300 Georgian families in Dvani, a mere half-dozen kilometers from the separatist South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, say that they live in constant fear of nightly skirmishes and looting.
Three small cement barriers that Georgian police officers have laid across the road are the only physical sign that a border exists here. A sheet of corrugated metal has been bent around a cement flag post to create a makeshift checkpoint hut. Dvani is surrounded by Ossetian villages, and it is within a stone's throw of a Russian checkpoint.
Two police officers have been killed – and several more injured – during attacks and skirmishes near the village since fighting with Russian troops and Ossetian militia stopped in August. According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, 11 police officers have been killed nationwide since the war ended in August; over 20 have been injured.
Daylight hours are the closest Dvani comes to a normal existence. On a February 23 visit, the five police officers manning the Georgian checkpoint were playing cards, stopping only to prevent cars from attempting to travel further down the road that leads into South Ossetia.
"During the day, they are afraid to come here and do something bad, but at night they come, shoot their guns and walk around drunk," said villager Giorgi Kopadze, referring to militia members at an Ossetian checkpoint some 150 meters away. "They kill our cows, pigs ... all of our livestock. They simply do not leave us alone. They want us to leave."
"[W]e cannot work in the fields because they took them over," Kopadze added.
Diplomats hope that the February 18 agreement on border zone security will restore a sense of stability for villagers such as those in Dvani. Under the terms of the agreement, weekly meetings are planned involving agencies "responsible for security and public order in areas of tension and relevant international organizations." The meetings could occur more frequently, depending on conditions.
All sides – Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia – have hailed the security agreement, although it leaves unresolved the question of whether or not international observers will be able to operate in the separatist entities – a key goal for the Georgian government and its Western allies.
Within Georgia, that goal has taken on added importance following the recent publication of a commentary by the widely respected Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, who suggested that another bout of fighting between Russia and Georgia was possible. The Kremlin, Felgenhauer suggested, remains fixated on the idea of forcing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from power.
Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain wary about accepting international observers.
Boris Chochiyev, the South Ossetian representative to the negotiations, recently stressed that no representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would be allowed into South Ossetia unless the OSCE created a Tskhinvali-based mission. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz government has given no indication that it would agree to a full-time European or OSCE monitoring mission in Abkhazia.
The presence of international monitors might not make much difference in enhancing the security of locals. In Dvani, villagers report that observers from European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) have so far done little to mitigate security fears. Village police officer Petre Durglishvili says that the group's daily visits have not changed the situation. "The EUMM [observers] come in the morning, look around and leave," Durglishvili said, adding that there is little the observers can do to enhance security. "They tried to go [into South Ossetia] twice, but [the Ossetians] stopped them with guns."
While attacks on the village do not occur nightly, they are frequent, said Durglishvili, who claimed that the threat of gunfire and looting has "terrorized" village residents.
EUMM spokesperson Steve Bird said that the mission is keeping "a close eye on the situation" in the border zone, but noted that the shootings and skirmishes follow "no particular pattern at all." Georgian interior ministry officials report the same.
But in the areas lining South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a single flare-up is sufficient to set off full-fledged fighting again, cautioned one former deputy chairman of Georgia's parliamentary Defense Committee.
"Now the situation in the buffer zones remains tense. Skirmishes are common place," said Nikoloz Rurua, who now serves as minister of culture. "The Russian checkpoints remain a flash point that could deteriorate the situation ... [and] really provoke a serious, serious outcome."
Rurua noted, however, that it is "too early" to judge the value of the February 18 agreement on security arrangements in the border zones.
Editor's Note: Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.