Greece wants OSCE monitors

Military monitors from Europe’s top security and human rights body must be able to return to the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia, Greece’s foreign minister said yesterday in Athens. Greece takes over the annual leadership of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) next month and hopes the monitors can resume patrols in South Ossetia, which they left during the Russia-Georgia war in August. They are the only international monitoring presence given clearance to enter South Ossetia, a small region with about 70,000 people on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. «We will make every effort needed,» Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis told Reuters in an interview. «There must be OSCE observers; we must be able to have a complete, realistic picture of what’s really happening. If good will is expressed by all, we’ll find a solution.» Bakoyannis, speaking before an annual OSCE meeting in Helsinki this week, gave no more details of how Greece planned to ensure the monitors’ return. The OSCE has not said which side is blocking the monitors’ return but a diplomat familiar with the situation said they had been blocked by men in uniform, believed to be Russian soldiers, at checkpoints. Russia launched a counterattack against Georgia in August after Tbilisi’s forces tried to retake Moscow-backed South Ossetia, which has unilaterally declared independence from Georgia. Some political analysts say violence could flare again. The OSCE contingent is small and unarmed but diplomats say it has a unique value because the monitors, who have military training and wear uniforms, are the only source of impartial information about the security situation. Russia criticized the OSCE for pulling out its observers, but Moscow has said the eight monitors who were there before the war are entitled to return. Bakoyannis said Greece would also try to bridge a gap in views over election monitors, a function of the OSCE to which some countries object. «Free and democratic elections are the basis for any democracy in the world. This is one of the OSCE’s main missions,» she said. She said Greece was willing to host a summit of the European Union and Russia, following a proposal by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that irked Washington and other countries which fear it could undermine the NATO defense alliance and the OSCE. «Greece would certainly be ready to host a summit but we can only seriously discuss it after we have good preparation,» Bakoyannis said. «No objections have been heard so far but we must have an agreed list of themes, a common goal.» The OSCE meeting in Helsinki tomorrow and on Friday will discuss a Russian proposal for a new security architecture in Europe, despite US hostility to the idea. «The discussion is in its very early stages. At this moment, what is being considered is whether countries want to bring this to the discussion table,» Bakoyannis said. «So far, responses have been positive.» Greece wants to highlight the need for environmental protection, partly to help cope with the economic hardships and subsequent immigration brought on by climate change. «Environment protection used to equate in the minds of politicians with costs. The reality is that the cost of not protecting the environment is much higher,» she said. Turkey making no effort to improve bilateral ties, says FM Turkey has made no effort to ease tensions with Greece despite Athens’s attempts to defuse a long-running territorial dispute and other differences, Greece’s foreign minister said in the interview yesterday. Dora Bakoyannis said the time was ripe for Turkey, as it reaches a decisive phase in its bid to join the European Union next year, to make concessions in talks to reunite Cyprus and over disputed waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. «While we made a conscious effort from the Greek side – such as the Greek prime minister’s visit to Ankara – Turkey did not reciprocate,» Bakoyannis told Reuters. «We have not had the improvement we hoped for this year.» «We will continue our strategy of trying to reduce tensions and resolve problems, but we expect specific steps from Turkey as well,» she said. A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman declined immediate comment, saying he needed first to see the minister’s comments in full. Strains resurfaced last month when Athens lodged a diplomatic protest after a Turkish frigate escorted an oil exploration vessel into the contested waters of the southern Aegean, thought to contain petroleum and gas reserves. Both sides possess 6 nautical miles (11 kilometers) off their shores in the Aegean, but Greece wants to expand this to 12 miles under the Law of the Sea. Turkey says this rule cannot apply in the Aegean and has said its application would be a cause for war. «This is anachronistic and outside the logic of international law to have a casus belli because a country ratifies the Law of the Sea,» said Bakoyannis, 54, Greece’s first female foreign minister and the daughter of a former prime minister. «It’s an unacceptable situation of 35 years of occupation that must end,» she said on Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus. «I see no signs of honest encouragement from Turkey at this moment. I want to hope that there will be.» (Reuters)

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