OSCE to close Georgia mission early next year

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Russia is forcing a team of international monitors, advisers and trainers to abandon their mission in Georgia by insisting that the two breakaway regions at the heart of this year's war be recognized as independent nations, officials said Monday.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission opened in 1992 and currently comprises about 200 people. Among other things, it tries to promote a peaceful resolution of tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia - tensions that led to an armed conflict in August.

OSCE chair Finland called a meeting Monday morning to seek a three-month extension to the mandate, which expires on Dec. 31, to allow time for more negotiations on the mission's future. It had been the topic of behind-the-scenes discussions for some time.

"Unfortunately, there was no consensus on this decision," said Antti Turunen, Finland's ambassador to the OSCE, after the closed-door gathering. "That means we have to start withdrawal of the mission and cease its activities."

The Vienna-based OSCE operates by consensus, so it takes just one of its 56 members to block a decision.

An OSCE statement said Russia could not accept any linkage between OSCE activities in South Ossetia and those in the rest of Georgia.

"All it comes down to ... is the insistence of Russia that there has to be recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the future structure of the mission," said Ian Cliff, Britain's ambassador.

Russia recognized the two regions as independent nations after its August war with Georgia. It is the only OSCE country to have done so.

Russian envoy Anvar Azimov said the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a "reality."

But U.S. ambassador Julie Finley said Monday's events were "very serious" for both the region and the OSCE and referred to Russia's resistance as "appalling."

"In this case there is only one party responsible for what has happened and what is about to happen with the shutting down of that mission - it is the Russian Federation," Finley said.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria said Russia was challenging not only his country's sovereignty and independence but also international law and institutions.

"It's basically a statement that the Soviet Union is back," Bokeria said.

In a statement, Finnish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman Alexander Stubb said he hoped negotiations on future OSCE activities could be continued next year.

In an effort to reach a compromise, Finland had proposed mutually independent field offices in Georgia and South Ossetia. The field offices would have been directed by a special representative with headquarters in Vienna. Russia promptly circulated an amended version.

The OSCE mission, made up of local and foreign staff, includes unarmed military monitors and also works on human rights, economic, environmental, good governance and media freedom issues. Talks on sending more OSCE observers to Georgia have deadlocked for months over Russia's refusal to let monitors into South Ossetia.

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Associated Press writer Matt Siegel contributed to this report from Tbilisi, Georgia.


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