Apr 10, 2007

Abkhazia: Delegation Denied US Access

Entry visas have been denied to an Abkhazian delegation attempting to attend a UN Security Council meeting this week regarding the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, sparking protest from Russian authorities.

Below is an article published by RIA Novosti:

The United States has once again denied an Abkhazian delegation an entry visa to attend a UN Security Council meeting on the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, a Russian envoy said Friday.

The UN Security Council will consider the situation in the upper part of the Kodori Gorge and study the possibility of extending the mandate of the UN observer mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) for another six months next week.

"The Abkhazian delegation, led by Sergei Shamba, the foreign minister of the unrecognized republic, has once again been denied a U.S. visa. So only a Georgian delegation, led by Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, will attend," Vladislav Chernov said.

He said Moscow regards this move as "discrimination against one of the parties in the conflict."

Last year, Russia protested the U.S. refusal to grant an entry visa to Shamba, who has Russian citizenship.

Shamba was to have attended a UN Security Council meeting in New York to discuss the situation in Georgia.

The UN Security Council unanimously passed a Russia-sponsored resolution, urging Georgia to desist from provocation in Abkhazia, and extending the Russian peacekeeping mission in Abkhazia until April 15, 2007.

Russia retains a peacekeeping presence in Georgia's turbulent regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which gained de facto independence following bloody conflicts after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia's leadership accuses the Kremlin of supporting the breakaway regions' drive for full independence.

A resolution adopted on August 31 stressed the importance of close cooperation between the military observers of the UN mission to Georgia and the CIS peacekeeping force as a key stabilizing factor in the Abkhazian conflict zone. The UN observer mission has operated in the region since 1993.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia have escalated since a spying row last September, when Georgia arrested several Russian officers on espionage charges.

The Kodori Gorge in northern Georgia, controlled by Abkhazia in its lower section and Tbilisi in the upper part, has been at the center of tensions between Georgia and the breakaway region since late July, when Georgia conducted what it called a police operation there to disarm a rebellious militia leader.

Russia has insisted on the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Kodori, saying it is crucial for the revival of talks with Abkhazia.