EU calls on Russia to substantiate claims of attacks
The head of the European Union's monitoring mission in Georgia on Friday invited Russian and South Ossetian officials to substantiate their claims that attacks are being perpetrated in the region so that they may be investigated, reported dpa.
"In general, such reports are overblown. There may have been isolated shootings, but no major incident has been registered," Ambassador Hansjorg Haber, head of the EU's monitoring mission (EUMM), said at a press conference in Brussels.
Haber was responding to Russian and rebels' complaints that EU monitors were not doing enough to investigate alleged incidents in and around Georgia's separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"I have heard of course the complaints of the South Ossetians. But they should give us the names, the places and the times, and we would be pleased to come over to their side of the administrative boundary and inspect what has happened there, ask questions to witnesses and then report objectively according to the highest standards," Haber said.
The EUMM mission now consists of 225 unarmed monitors from 22 EU member states. But while the monitors are currently patrolling core Georgia, they are still not allowed into the country's two separatist enclaves.
Haber said it would be in their own interest to invite them in "if they want alleged shootings from the Georgian side to be investigated and reported impartially."
"We are inviting them to invite us," Haber said.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the EU mission of ignoring allegations of escalating violence taking place in the buffer zones adjacent to the separatist regions.
"We are concerned by the careless attitude toward what is happening in these zones. This is a dangerous game, they are playing with fire," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.
But Haber said Friday that both the Russians and the South Ossetians had failed to provide any details about such attacks.
"We don't get any details from the Russians. We just get general allegations that there are shootings. We need to be given details in order to verify them," said Haber as he described relations with the Russians as "difficult".
The ambassador said some 1,900 houses in villages located in the areas adjacent to the separatist enclaves had been destroyed during or after the August conflict.
He also said there were reports that ethnic Georgians living in Akhalgori were being told they would have to take up Russian passports if they wished to continue living in the disputed region.
Russia is virtually alone in recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.