EUMM Head of Mission Ambassador Andrzej Tyszkiewicz follows a patrol with Field Office Mtskheta, August 2011. Photo: EUMM
Head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), Andrzej Tyszkiewicz said in an email interview with Civil.ge that selection process for the new head of mission was already underway in Brussels as he would be leaving the post this summer.
Tyszkiewicz, who has been heading EUMM for almost two years now, says his departure has nothing to do with a controversy that arose in April 2012, when authorities in breakaway Abkhazia denounced him as “undesirable person on the Abkhaz territory”; he says his departure from the post after two-year tenure is a “common practice. “Two years in a Mission is a long time; it is actually the customary time-span for Heads of Common Security and Defence Policy missions,” he said.
In the interview outgoing head of the EUMM also spoke about ongoing installation of wire fences by the Russian troops across the South Ossetian administrative boundary line, which has caused Georgia’s concern.
Q.: There has been an increase recently in detentions of locals near the South Ossetian administrative boundary line for what Tskhinvali says is “a violation of the border.” What do you think is the reason behind this increase in number of detentions and how EUMM is involved on the one hand to prevent such cases and on the other hand to facilitate the release of detained locals?
A.: Whenever a detention case occurs, EUMM immediately activates the Hotline, which is part of our Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IRPM). Through the Hotline, we facilitate information exchanges and negotiations, such as to achieve as prompt a release as possible. The freedom of movement of communities living in areas adjacent to the Administrative Boundary Lines with Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a key priority for EUMM. Therefore, we are monitoring the detention cases to which you are referring very closely. As a matter of fact, this issue will be on the agenda of the next IPRM meeting that will take place in Ergneti on 31 May and has been brought to the attention of the EU institutions.
Of course, whenever we discuss detention cases through the Hotline, we try to shed light on the reasons motivating these detentions. We will keep doing so, including in the course of the next IPRM meeting.
Q.: Recently there have also been intensified fencing efforts by the Russian troops on the ground, installing wire fences across parts of the South Ossetian administrative border, which the local villagers in the Tbilisi-administered areas adjacent to administrative boundary line say further hinders their free movement and working on agricultural land. Do you see any correlation between intensified fencing activities and increased number of detentions and do you think these two trends indicate that Russian Federation troops are even further tightening control across the administrative border?
A.: The de facto authorities claim that the installation of fences aims to clearly mark the “border” in order to avoid detentions for unintentional “illegal” crossing.
In any event, the installation of fences clearly violates the basic human right of freedom of movement. It impedes people’s livelihood, divides families and communities and makes it difficult for children to attend school. This is unacceptable. The most recent example is Ditsi, where our monitors have observed new fences being erected. EUMM has facilitated communication amongst the sides and we were present at an ad hoc meeting bringing together the representatives of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the South Ossetian de facto authorities and the Russian Border Guards in South Ossetia. The issue will also be one of the key topics at the coming IPRM meeting in Ergneti.
When it comes to freedom of movement, our role, as EUMM, is to observe the situation on a day-to-day basis and report our findings to the European Union and its 27 member states in order to inform their policy-making. From a more pragmatic point of view, we facilitate discussions amongst all parties in order to allow local population to move as freely as possible and carry out their everyday activities.
Q.: You have been heading EUMM for almost two years now. What, in your opinion, have been the major trends in terms of the security situation over the past two years, both in and around the break-away territories? What are EUMM’s major challenges in addressing issues envisaged by its mandate?
A.: There is consensus amongst all parties that EUMM’s presence since October 2008, following the August conflict, has significantly enhanced stability in Georgia and the wider region.
Thanks to our daily monitoring activities and the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), consisting of monthly meetings and a 24/7 Hotline, we have often managed to decrease tensions or avoid escalations amongst the parties to the conflict, such as in December last year, for instance, when an exchange of fire took place near Koda. We have also often facilitated discussions and pragmatic solutions to issues affecting communities living in areas adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, such as rehabilitating irrigation channels, granting a farmer access to his land or allowing for medical evacuations. We have also succeeded to facilitate the simultaneous release of prisoners and shared information exchanges about missing persons.
One frustration is that EUMM cannot carry out its mandate in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We are here to observe the ceasefire agreement and whether people living in the areas adjacent to the Administrative Boundary Lines have freedom of movement without restrictions. It is difficult to do so while not having access to all territories involved in the conflict.
Another important challenge is that IPRM meetings in the Abkhaz theatre, more commonly referred to as the Gali IPRM, have been suspended for more than a year now. While we continue to liaise with all parties through the Hotline and during the Geneva international discussions, the absence of periodic IPRM meetings makes the implementation of our mandate more complicated. Since its suspension in April of last year, the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions have been trying to find a solution in order to allow the IPRM meetings to resume without imposed conditions, [but efforts] have remained unsuccessful.
As a matter of fact, since we are talking about the Mission’s past and future activities, I would like to use this opportunity to let you know that my two-year tenure as Head of EUMM is coming to an end this summer.
Q.: Is your departure somehow related to a controversy that arose in April 2012, when de facto authorities in Abkhazia denounced you as “undesirable person on the Abkhaz territory”, which led to suspension of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings in Gali?
A.: No, it is common practice. Two years in a Mission is a long time; it is actually the customary time-span for Heads of Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions. Throughout my two-year term, I have enjoyed the full support of the European Union and its member states. My time as the Head of EUMM has been extremely interesting, yet also challenging.
Although I will be sad to leave Tbilisi and Georgia, I have to take on a new job offered to me by the Polish national authorities. The selection process for the new Head of Mission is on-going in Brussels.
Q.: What impact, if any, do you think the suspension of the Gali IPRM meetings has had on the situation on the ground?
A.: As I told you, the suspension of the Gali IPRM has been an essential obstacle when it comes to the implementation of our mandate. Confidence-building is a major aspect of our mandate and the absence of IPRM meetings has hampered our ability to facilitate information exchange amongst all parties to the conflict. Luckily, we have continued to liaise with all parties through our Hotline and thus contributed to solving numerous issues pertaining to communities’ everyday lives in the areas adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Q.: In its recent report on Abkhazia, the Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group said that peaceful change of government in Georgia in October, 2012 stoked optimism about reducing open hostilities. Do you share this optimism?
A.: As Head of EUMM, a monitoring mission, it is not my role to make any political statements. Irrespective of political changes in Georgia, EUMM will continue to implement its mandate and do the utmost to keep the situation on the ground quiet and free from hostilities. What I can tell you is that our day-to-day interactions with the current government are as constructive as with the previous one.
Q.: How would you describe EUMM’s cooperation with Georgia’s current government? Is the Memorandum of Understanding, under which Georgia unilaterally accepted limitations on the deployment of both troops and heavy equipment in areas adjacent to the breakaway regions, still in force?
A.: I could assess our cooperation with Georgia’s current government as very good. Our Georgian interlocutors are open and transparent.
Of course our Memoranda of Understanding with the Georgian government are still in force. In order to observe compliance with the 2008 ceasefire agreement and the implementing measures, our monitors regularly visit facilities and installations of the Georgian Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The reciprocity of such agreements by the Russian Federation would certainly enhance transparency.