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S. Chaban: It Is Important that CIS CPF Assessment Would Be Correct and Fair

26.12.2007 10:01

Interview of Lieutenant-General Sergey Chaban, Commander of the CIS Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CPF) in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict to Newspaper "Red Star" ("Krasnaya Zvezda").

- Sergey Yakovlevich, the CIS Collective Peacekeeping Forces were deployed in this region 13 years ago. What were these years for the Russian "Blue Helmets"?

- Assessing the results of our mission I should say that for the peacekeeping forces it was not only a period of organizational buildup and streamlining, they also gained rich experience in fulfillment of political and military decisions on peace-keeping in the Georgian-Abkhaz land.

I'd like to remind you that in 1992-1993 Abkhazia and Georgia were involved in a direct armed conflict. In spite of the fact that on April 4, 1994 the Declaration on Measures for Political Settlement of Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict and Quadripartite Agreement on Voluntary Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons were signed the situation in the zone of conflict remained complicated and required urgent deployment of peacekeeping forces there.

On April 15, 1994, the CIS Council of Heads of State adopted a declaration on the readiness to introduce peacekeeping forces into the zone of conflict by consent of the conflicting parties, and requested all CIS states to take part in this peacekeeping operation.

On May 14, 1994 in Moscow, the Georgian and Abkhaz parties signed the Agreement of a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces. The document specified establishment of a security zone, and deployment of the CIS Collective Peacekeeping Forces there to prevent recurrence of the hostilities and provide for the return of refugees to the places of their residence. On June 9, 1994, the RF President signed a decision on participation of the Russian troops in the CIS Peacekeeping Operation in the zone of conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.

On June 21, 1994, the Russia "Blue Helmets" were deployed in the zone of conflict. They used to consider this date as a date of CIS CPF establishment. That time the Forces included five battalions and two companies from the North Caucasus Military District, Group of Russian Troops in Transcaucasia, Volga-Urals Military District and Leningrad Military District totaling 1 872 men. This contingent was adopted as a basic structure of the CPF in the zone of conflict, and performs its peacekeeping mission there until now.

Currently the strength of the Forces is about 2 thousand men. They are deployed in the area of more that 3 thousand square kilometers. Yet the forces are called collective there no troops of other countries in them for today.

- The Peacekeeping Forces fulfilled and fulfill their main mission to provide for ceasefire and peacekeeping, and prevent recurrence of hostilities in the zone of conflict by separating the armed forces of the conflicting parties. And what would you tell us about the provision of conditions for the safe return of refugees?

- Due to the ceasefire and introduction of the CIS CPF into the zone of conflict more than 50 000 refugees returned to the places of residence.

As for the tasks that are currently fulfilled by our peacekeepers, they include mine clearing and restoration of vital life support facilities.

They regularly carry out the engineer reconnaissance for explosive items, the inspection of railways, and the repair of motor roads, for instance, in the Lower Kodori Valley.

Only this year, the CIS CPF mine pickers found and deactivated more than sixty various explosives. And totally since the date of CPF establishment they found and destroyed more than 20 000 explosive items. Imagine, how many lives have been saved by our soldiers.

We pay special attention to the Inguri Hydraulic Power Plant that is a strategic facility for a wide area of Transcaucasia. CIS CPF CP 206 guards its main building, and two temporary check points provide for security of repair works at the plant.

- Sergey Yakovlevich, what is your assessment of the current situation in the region?

- The situation in the zone of conflict remains stably tense. In 2007, due to activities of the peacekeepers the number of crimes and offences in the area of responsibility radically decreased. Residents of the Gali region positively assess the measures of the peacekeepers for maintaining order. Surely, there are problems, but we used to work in close contact with local law enforcement bodies. Naturally, it gives its positive results.

For the convenience of local residents we placed post-boxes marked "MC" ("Peacekeepers") in the vicinity of the check points, and advised the people on their purpose via the TV systems of the Gali and Zugdidi regions. Since that time we have received dozens of messages including notices on criminal elements.

As of today we mastered methods of processing these messages that makes it possible to timely advise the law enforcement bodies on plotters and prepared crimes. In so doing, we always call attention of the law enforcement bodies to observance of the human rights. The effectiveness of, for example, the Gali militia with our assistance became higher.

- All these years the Gali region is considered the most worrisome area, and it?s true. What measures to repress the actions of terrorists and raiders, as well as operations of illicit armed formations in this area are taken?

- It is true, the area is worrisome. Aggravation of the criminogenic situation there traditionally coincides with cropping of citrus fruits and hazel-nuts. For plain and fair people they are a source of income, while for criminals - a source of lucre. To protect the peasants selling the crops against criminals we made a decision to arrange additional patrol routes (including in the night-time), and set additional check points in the area of our responsibility. It has resulted in improvement of the criminogenic situation. .

By the way, we perform not only foot but also aerial patrols by helicopters. The statistics of crimes and offenses confirms the trend to stabilization in the Gali region. We have practically finished with the kidnapping and robbery with violence. In my opinion, our major success is that the residents of the Gali region are respectful to the peacekeepers and consider them reliable guarantors of stability and order.

- How do you cooperate with the UN Mission and other UN officials in the security zone?

- It is well-known that on July 21, 1994 the UN Security Council deployed the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in the zone of conflict. The UN Military Observers (UNMOs) observe violations of with the Agreement of a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces. It is exactly the CIS CPF that provide for successful operations of the UNMOs. Effectively or not? I think that they do it rather effectively. It is not occasionally that in October 2007 UN Security Council Resolution No.1781 emphasized the importance of close and effective collaboration between the UNOMIG and CIS CPF because the peacekeeping forces currently play an important stabilizing role in the zone of conflict.

What actually do we do? In 2007, we performed 7 joint patrols in the Kodori Valley. Plus 16 joint patrols in the Gali region of Abkhazia and Zugdidi region of Georgia. 20 times we monitored investigations of Moscow Ceasefire Agreement violations.

Besides, the Collective Peacekeeping Forces provide for security of various humanitarian organizations: the International Red Cross Committee (IRCC), "Medicins Sans Frontieres", "Movement Against Hunger", "No War in Caucasus", "WORLD VISION", when their representatives work with the people within the area of responsibility of our "Blue Helmets". Officials of these organizations regularly approach the CIS CPF command with various requests including for provision of security.

- The relationships with the local people and living conditions of the personnel are important factors of success in such respectable mission that is fulfilled by our peacekeepers. What would you tell us about it?

- On December 21, 2007, we completed scheduled rotation of the Volga-Urals Military District battalions. Earlier (December 5 - 10) we completed rotation of the North Caucasus Military District battalions and independent units. All activities were accomplished at the established deadlines. I am sure that newcomers will perform their duties as fair as their predecessors.

In spite of the fact that the personnel was trained under a special peacekeeping programme at the stations, we plan and already conduct our training in the CIS CPF area of responsibility. The training first of all includes exercises of task fulfillment in strict accordance with the peacekeeping mandate and key principles of the CIS CPF operations, i.e. neutrality and impartiality.

Special attention is paid to relationships with the local population and observance of safety rules in operation of weapons and military equipment. We conduct classes on local laws, traditions and customs. We render assistance to our check point commanders in establishment contacts with UNMOs and local heads of administrations. During the training every serviceman obtains knowledge and practice skills to perform his duties correctly and positively.

Naturally, the peacekeepers will also undergo combat training. We planned and will regularly conduct weapons practice and other field training. That is, we will train the newcomers as we always do it in the CIS CPF.

As for the living conditions, the CIS CPF soldiers are provided with everything they need. We do our best to improve their living conditions in the scheduled order.

- The Kodori Valley was the other days perhaps the most dangerous place for the "Blue Helmets". What is the situation there now?

- There are still two peacekeepers' check points there. They have everything they need and regularly practice combat training. They are ready to repress any provocations.

- Georgia persistently raises an issue on assessment of the CPF activities in the zone of conflict. Certain politicians in Tbilisi insist on withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers and revision of the peacekeeping operation format. What do you think about the development of the situation?

- The CIS CPF have been performing their mission in strict accordance with their mandate. The main result is that in cooperation with the UNOMIG we prevented the military conflict in the region from recurrence. We permanently urge the conflicting parties to proceed with the dialogue within the well-proved format, i.e. weekly quadripartite conciliation meetings of the conflicting parties, UNOMIG and CIS CPF. Unfortunately 2007 witnessed no such meetings.

I have said already that the peacekeepers render assistance in restoration of the destroyed infrastructure and provide for humanitarian activities. Every day local people approach us for help, including medical services, and receive this help as far as possible. The CIS CPF medical teams regularly visit various townships and villages to render medical assistance. We also provide in-patient clinic aid in our hospital. That is, we fulfill all tasks specified in our mandate.

Surely, it is important to us that the assessment of the CPF would be current and fair. Moreover, the Forces have been highly appraised by the UN Security Council.

What attitude of the Georgian party to the peacekeeping operation will be after the forthcoming January presidential election there, we will know it very soon.

- What would you tell us about the professional level of the CPF soldiers?

- Our peacekeepers have everything they need for fulfillment of there tasks depending on their combat designation. All of them without exception are contracted servicemen. The troops of the 131 Independent Motorized Infantry Brigade of the North Caucasus Military District and 15 Independent Motorized Infantry Brigade of the Volga-Urals Military District (the first professional peacekeeping unit in the Russian Army) proved to be very successful.

The peacekeepers worthily perform their active service and combat duty on observation and check points in complicated conditions, in so doing they demonstrate self-possession and professionalism. They still reliably provide for peace and stability in the zone of conflict, and do their best to ensure proper conditions for its settlement.

The Russian peacekeepers frequently display courage and bravery. We should remember that 117 peacekeepers were killed here in the period of the peacekeeping operation. 1377 servicemen got high awards and decorations of the Russian Federation for the service to peace. Two servicemen: First Lieutenant Roman Bersenev and enlisted man Dmitry Mironov became the Heroes of Russia (post-mortem). CP 108 is named after the latter.

As a commander, I may only express my deep gratitude to all officers, warrant-officers, sergeants and enlisted men, whose service redounds to the best traditions of the CIS CPF peacekeepers, and who represent Russia with honor and dignity in the zone of conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.