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Daily Archives: August 16, 2008

Rice makes show of support for Georgia


by Stuart Williams*

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed for Georgia yesterday in a show of support for its pro-western government as it struggled to regain control of much of the country from Russian troops after a ceasefire.
The United States has warned Russia that ties could be "adversely affected" for years by Russia's military offensive in Georgia, sparked by a Georgian move to take back control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia. But Washington has ruled out any US military action.
Georgian authorities negotiated with Russian commanders for the handover of the city of Gori where Russian troops have remained. Georgia has already accused the Russian military of seeking to destroy Gori and other installations.
The Georgian interior ministry said Thursday about 130 Russian armoured vehicles had moved deeper into the west of Georgia, heading in the direction of Kutaisi city before stopping near the town of Senaki.
The ministry said Russian forces were "destroying" Gori, the Georgian city closest to disputed South Ossetia, and demolishing military facilities in the Black Sea port of Poti.
Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili said the Russian army was rolling through Georgia with "thousands and thousands of irregulars" whom he said were raping and looting.
"This army travels around with irregulars, travels around with marauders, travels around with rapists, travels around with arsonists, robbers and with looters," Saakashvili told foreign news media.
He said the Russian army controlled about a third of his country.
Yesterday, a week after thousands of Russian troops entered South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, Rice left France for Georgia in hopes of boosting a truce brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"It is time for this crisis to be over," Rice said Thursday after meeting Sarkozy in the south of France. She urged Moscow and Tbilisi to sign the truce "without delay."
A US State Department official said Rice would bring Tbilisi "clarifying explanations" in the six-point agreement, including the questions of territorial integrity and "residual security arrangements that the Russians would be able to maintain."
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned that US-Russia ties could be "adversely affected" for years unless Moscow adjusted its "aggressive posture and actions".
Highlighting the "profound implications" for the entire US-Russia security relationship, Gates said Russia would have to pay "some consequences" for its attacks on Georgia.
Russia's ambassador at the United Nations sounded upbeat about early approval by the UN Security Council of a new draft resolution to formalise the ceasefire accord.
The Russian envoy said bargaining was under way on a revised version which would "clearly and accurately repeat what is said" in the six-point deal reached by Sarkozy and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow Tuesday.
A second US military cargo plane filled with humanitarian supplies arrived in Tbilisi on Thursday, as UN officials and aid organisations complained of a lack of access to affected areas.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed serious concern and underlined the "critical importance of safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors to all conflict-affected areas."
Latest estimates by the Georgian and Russian governments put the number of displaced people in the conflict region at nearly 115,000.
Armed gunmen held up UN workers in the flashpoint town of Gori on Thursday and stole their vehicles.
Faced with Russian tanks and armoured vehicles, Georgian troops pulled back Thursday to positions along the road leading into Gori, as expectations that the Russian military would pull out from the strategic city proved premature.


Kosovo moves ahead after independence, but concerns remain

by Bekim Greicevci*

On the surface, Kosovo looks more like a real state six months after independence with a constitution, anthem and passports, but its people are unimpressed with unfulfilled promises of a better life.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament proclaimed independence from Serbia on February 17. It has been recognised by 45 countries led by the United States and most of the European Union.
The new constitution came into force on June 15, as well as a national anthem, while the first passports of the new republic were issued a month later and plans were made to open 10 embassies abroad.
That, however, is of little comfort to the people of Kosovo, one of the poorest parts of Europe with rampant poverty, unemployment and corruption.
For Selim Rexhepi, a 42-year-old Pristina taxi driver, the declaration of independence was one of the happiest moments in his life, but not the spur that his government promised would improve his living standards.
"Why do I need independence when most of the day I do not have electricity at home" and a lack of continuous water supply, complained Rexhepi.
The domination of the official political status of the breakaway Serbian province over its economy in recent years had "cost Kosovo dearly," said local political analyst Safet Gerxhaliu.
"The status issue was used as a magic wand which would solve all problems," said Gerxhaliu, who is also chairman of the Office for International Relations of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce.
Gerxhaliu warned the government "must energetically face the main problems of society (or else face) social unrest by the same people who celebrated independence on February 17."
But Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci said despite being focused on "building a new state," the leadership had also been insisting on a "good governance."
"We have approved an economic programme which is meant to improve the situation," Kuci said, adding its main pillars were development and lowering unemployment.
Almost half of Kosovo's two million population — mostly ethnic Albanians — live in poverty. Joblessness stands at around 40 percent, and even higher for youths.
In July, international donors pledged 1.2 billion euros (1.78 billion dollars) to help build Kosovo's battered economy, but insisted Pristina must root out graft at all levels.
Ahmeti said even though the declaration of independence from Serbia "removed one of the biggest obstacles for foreign investment," the benefits "will not be seen for years to come."
Many Kosovars wrongly expected independence to solve all their problems, including "electricity supply, poverty and unemployment," said Shpend Ahmeti of a local think-tank, Institute for Advanced Studies GAP.
"Managing these expectations and pursuing reforms are now the biggest challenges (for the government) in the months to come," said Ahmeti.
Another challenge for Pristina was the rejection of independence by Serbs who remained in Kosovo following its 1998-1999 conflict. The minority now accounts for little more than 100,000 of the population.
Kuci said the government expected Serbia's new West-oriented government would stop supporting "extremists and attempts to undermine the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Kosovo."
"We have the political will for them (the Serbs) to be integrated into Kosovo's society," Kuci vowed.
Serbs, who consider Kosovo the cradle of their history and culture and mainly live in the north, enjoy considerable political and economic support from Belgrade.
Ahmeti estimated that the "only way out of this situation is through economic integration where both parties will have an interest to cooperate … so that trust can be created on both sides."
"The political situation is so tense that the Serbian side sees no interest in taking part in Kosovo public life," he said.
Kosovo's constitution handed its government powers previously held by a United Nations mission which entered the territory in mid-1999, after NATO bombing ousted Serbian forces waging a crackdown on Albanian separatists.
Ethnic Albanians make up around 90 percent of Kosovo's two million population. Only around a third of the Serbs who lived in Kosovo before the conflict remain, the rest having fled in fear of reprisal attacks.