EU monitors in Georgia confirm Russian withdrawal


EU MONITORS in Georgia have confirmed that Russian forces have dismantled 17 checkpoints, one signals post and one military base in zones adjacent to breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But, while EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said yesterday Russian troops have completed their withdrawal from the areas in line with yesterday's deadline,French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner complained that Russia still occupies three disputed pockets of land - Akhalgori and Perevi in South Ossetia, and the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia - areas that were under Georgian control before hostilities broke out.

Col Dorcha Lee, a former army officer and veteran of UN peacekeeping missions in Lebanon, the Middle East and Serbia who heads the Irish group in the 200-strong European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) admits that their work is difficult and breaking new ground. "This is a new experience for the EU and we are hyper-sensitive to its needs and to succeed here. We hope to use this as a future model for conflicts if it works. It's a question of confidence-building so refugees can feel safe returning home and our presence is vital in that respect."

The other members of the Irish group are Peter McMahon, a former Air Corp lieutenant colonel, Peter Emerson, a Russian speaker and lecturer in consensus politics, and Eithne MacDermott, a East European studies specialist.

The Irish peacekeepers have travelled on patrol in armoured vehicles up the eastern side of the South Ossetian buffer zone from their field office at Bazaleti.

The EUMM is scheduled to last a year and the Irish representatives are on a four-month stint.

EU monitors began witnessing Russian troops bulldozing checkpoints and withdrawing since earlier this week.

The Irish group were visited by the Irish Ambassador to Georgia, Geoffrey Keating, who also saw the main refugee camp in Gori where 3,000 displaced citizens are waiting to return home. He witnessed the delivery of food donations organised by Irish expat Dr Mike McCarthy and local Irish businessmen.

Mr Keating, also Ambassador to Bulgaria, is based in Sofia. Overall, the Irish people and Government have contributed €250,000 in humanitarian assistance following the recent conflict. "People are now very anxious to get back to their homes and villages and start rebuilding their lives, but they are fearful of militias in both regions," said Dr McCarthy who runs an international medical service from the Georgian capital Tbilisi.