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Parliament Sets the Stage for a Crucial Vote on Russian Peacekeepers
/ 7 Feb.'06 / 19:12
Civil Georgia

After a series of additional consultations between lawmakers and cabinet members, the Georgian Parliament will discuss the performance of the Russian peacekeepers stationed in the south Ossetian conflict zone at a plenary session on February 15, Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze said on Monday.

Bujanadze was speaking after the Parliamentary Bureau convened for a preliminary discussion. Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli and State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava testified to the senior MPs about the peace process in South Ossetia.

“Unfortunately, the information delivered by the PM and State Minister proves that no progress has been made and there is only setback… So we consider that the Parliament should maximally adhere to its resolution adopted last October,” Nino Burjanadze said at a news conference.

According to the resolution, the government was instructed by the lawmakers to report to the Parliament by February 10, 2006 about the peace process in the South Ossetian conflict zone. If the Parliament decides that no progress has been made, the lawmakers will instruct the government to launch procedures for the withdrawal of the peacekeepers, starting from February 15, 2006.

Burjanadze said that although the Parliament is determined to follow its October 2005 resolution, both the lawmakers and the government members should “thoroughly consider all the possible threats and scenarios that might take place in South Ossetia” after Tbilisi demands the withdrawal of the Russian troops.

“That is why we decided to work in close cooperation for one more week and discuss the issue at a parliamentary session on February 15, as envisaged by the resolution… We should make a decision which will be directed towards the preservation of stability, but at the same time towards fostering conflict resolution,” Burjanadze said.

A joint session of the parliamentary committees on Foreign Relations and Defense and Security will take place on February 13. State Minister Giorgi Khaindrava will brief the parliamentarians about the details of the Russian peacekeepers’ performance, according to Burjanadze.
“And if there is no radical improvement in the peacekeepers’ performance – we do not expect this will happen – the Parliament will adopt a new resolution on February 15 instructing the government to launch procedures for the Russian peacekeepers’ withdrawal,” influential MP Giga Bokeria told Civil Georgia.

MP Bokeria explained that these legal procedures might take a “maximum of two months.”

MP Givi Targamadze, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, said that, presumably, the Parliament’s new resolution - which may be adopted on February 15 - will give the government about one month to develop a specific plan for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers.

After the Bureau hearing Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli declined to answer reporters’ questions about whether he supports the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers. The opposition claims that the government hesitates in taking decisive actions.

“President Saakashvili and the government are not going to demand the withdrawal of the peacekeepers. On February 15, the Parliament will pass a resolution, which will envisage a demand to withdraw the peacekeepers. But the problem is that this resolution will not indicate an exact date of when this withdrawal should take place, so this will be a good reason not to fulfill this resolution,” MP Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of New Rights opposition party, said at a news conference on February 7.

“The hesitation by the Prime Minister and other government members over the peacekeepers is really concerning,” MP Davit Zurabishvili, chairman of the Democratic Front parliamentary faction, said on February 7.

Russia's Reaction

Recent statements by Russian officials indicate that Moscow might refuse to pull its troops out from the South Ossetian conflict zone under the pretext of “protecting the rights of its citizens.”

“Our position is clear: a majority of the residents of South Ossetia [are] Russian citizen and we have no other choice than to protect their rights and, simultaneously, stability in the region,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostey published on February 7.

"We hope the Georgian Parliament and executive government will be meticulous while making their decision," he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov assured South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity during a meeting in Moscow on February 2 that Moscow “will protect the interests of its citizens living in South Ossetia.”

Russia will also apparently try to justify the presence of its troops in the conflict zone by the absence of a consensus between the South Ossetian and Georgian sides over the issue of the peacekeepers.

“The mandate of the peacekeeping forces can only be suspended in the event of a political decision [taken] by all the parties involved. In the event of a unilateral decision, the JPKF will continue to fulfill its duties as envisaged by the mandate,” Interfax news agency quoted Maj. Gen. Marat Kulakhmetov, the Commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF) stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, as saying on February 6.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov said on February 3 that the peacekeepers’ fate should not be decided unilaterally by the Georgian side and that the South Ossetian side should also have a say in this issue.

MP Giga Bokeria said that if Moscow refuses the demands by Tbilisi, the troops stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone will be “outlawed” and denounced as “occupation forces.”

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