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OSCE: Georgia refugees must be aided
by Staff Writers
Geneva, Switzerland (UPI) Oct 6, 2011

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Security in Georgia remains stable three years after its conflict with Russia but serious humanitarian issues are unresolved, a top European diplomat says.

Despite the absence of continued fighting since the August 2008 conflict over the disputed region of South Ossetia, internally displaced refugees lack basic human rights and their grievances need to be resolved, Giedrius Cekuolis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation said Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Glossing over grievances won't do. They need to be dealt with," he said.

Cekuolis, the special representative from the OSCE, made the comments at the 17th round of the Geneva International Discussions on resolving the remaining issues stemming from the 2008 conflict.

"There are still ordinary people who are suffering the consequences and a poorer quality of life because of restrictions on freedom of movement as well as on access to education and healthcare, just to name a few," he said.

Cekuolis blamed the situation in part on the refusal of Georgia to commit to the non-use of force against its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are supported by Russia.

The three years of relative calm in the region is "no small achievement," Cekuolis said, but added, "our common goal must be the development of confidence- and security-building measures that could strengthen confidence and military transparency.

"We cannot live in a security vacuum, otherwise the security situation on the ground could spin out of the control again, and the consequences could be disastrous," he warned.

Georgia has reported that at the end of 2010 there were about 236,000 internally displaced people in the country. Most of them have been homeless since fighting in the breakaway regions in the 1990s, with 22,000 more being added since the 2008 conflict.

Many of them have been living in temporary housing in Tbilisi, but since last year Georgian officials have been evicting them, Amnesty International claimed.

The human rights group said in August that Tbilisi has engaged in a pattern of forced evictions from temporary shelters, with a fresh wave of evictions starting in July 2011.

"In their drive to empty temporary housing shelters in the capital and provide displaced people with durable housing, the Georgian authorities have ignored essential protections for those evicted and (have) estranged many from established support networks and livelihoods," Amnesty International Georgia researcher Natalia Nozadze said.

Cekuolis' comments in Geneva echoed those made by OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis in March, when he said the humanitarian issues in Georgia were in the forefront of efforts to resolve the conflict.

"The OSCE is committed to achieving progress in the Geneva discussions and addressing urgent humanitarian issues, including the situation of internally displaced persons," Azubalis said, adding that supplying natural gas and potable water to refugees has become a main focus of the international group.

The humanitarian plight within the Georgian conflict zone, however, wasn't the only focus during the Geneva talks.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin asserted Georgia was massing military assets along its borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and is using "reconnaissance groups" to foment trouble in the area, RIA Novosti reported.

He also urged Tbilisi to recognize the breakaway regions as independent countries and develop "proper relations" with them, the Russian news service said.

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