The EUMM is closely monitoring events in the area of Chorchana-Tsnelisi on the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line (ABL). Mission patrols have maintained a constant presence in that area since 24 August.
Due to the level of press interest in the situation and in order to dispel certain inaccurate reports, the Mission would like to share the following information:
· Beginning in January this year the Mission noted paint markings on trees in the area between Tsnelisi and Chorchana. The Mission assesses these as a feature of ‘borderisation’. However, no actor has claimed responsibility for these markings.
· Between 20 and 24 August a new Georgian observation post was established on the outskirts of the village of Tsnelisi by the MIA Special Tasks Department. According to EUMM findings, the post is located some 240 metres away from the ABL and on Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT) in accordance with the traditionally understood run of the ABL in that area.
· Security actors from South Ossetia have in the last week established new positions and installed a number of borderisation features, including ‘green signs’ and flags on the TAT side of the ABL as traditionally understood in this area. The features are up 1.3 kilometres beyond the ABL. In the meantime Georgian MIA units have also reinforced their presence in the Chorchana forest area.
· The Mission notes a substantial, continuing presence of armed security actors in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area. The establishment of multiple new positions across the ABL, and the concentration of armed personnel increases the potential for encounters and constitutes a risk to stability.
· The EUMM-managed hotline is being actively used to exchange information and address questions across the ABL. The EUMM follows up on hotline activations through its constant patrolling presence on the ground.
· The EUMM and OSCE have since 29 August facilitated four extraordinary technical meetings within the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism format to defuse tensions and to identify possible concrete solutions for a more permanent de-escalation.
· The last technical meeting took place on Friday 13th September in Ergneti. The meeting was held in a professional atmosphere but with positions remaining irreconcilable. Positively, all participants reaffirmed their commitment to some basic principles to avoid a further escalation in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area, while remaining committed to finding a peaceful solution. It is important that these commitments are reflected in the actual presence and activities on the ground.
· The Mission also notes that two crossing points at the South Ossetian ABL - Odzisi and Sinaguri - have remained closed since 20:00 on 4 September 2019. No concrete indication has been given as to when they will reopen, while statements from security actors in South Ossetia have linked the closures to the ongoing developments in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area. The Mission sees these measures as harmful restrictions of movement, which negatively impact commuters from both sides of the ABL, especially affecting the population living in or regularly commuting to the Akhalgori valley. The closed crossings points, according to regular Freedom of Movement Surveys conducted by EUMM, would typically see around 400 crossings daily in both directions.