Exclusive interview with Erik Høeg, Head of EUMM Georgia
09 April, 2019
Exclusive interview with Erik Høeg, Head of EUMM Georgia
Georgian Journal offers its readers an exclusive interview with Erik Høeg, Head of Mission of the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) Georgia. 1. What is the situation now along the ABL?

The security situation along the Administrative Boundary Lines can be described as relatively stable. However, this does not happen automatically – it requires constant efforts by our 320 Mission staff and other international organizations involved in the conflict to facilitate communication and de-escalate tensions. That is what the Mission does 24/7. We
continue to see troubling developments and actions that jeopardize stability. Three general issues of particular concern are:

What we call ‘Borderisation’ activities – are the steps taken to create a de facto border between the breakaways and that part of Georgia under central government control. This includes the erection of fences, signs and other markings that create barriers, which hinder the free movement of people, separating communities, neighbors and relatives. This also jeopardizes stability, because such steps create tensions. Today, there are at least 32 kilometers of fencing and barbed wire along the Administrative Boundary Line with Abkhazia and 58 kilometers along the Administrative Boundary Line with South Ossetia. Security personnel stationed in both regions install these. In addition to separating local communities, these imposed restrictions limit access to education, medical services, farmland, and trade.

Early in 2019, the crossing points along both Administrative Boundary Lines were closed, imposing severe restrictions on freedom of movement. The issue was addressed using all available means, which I described above. These closures were both regrettable and unnecessary.

The detention of civilians crossing the Administrative Boundary Lines is a constant source of concern. Every single month we continue to see civilians stopped by armed personnel. I personally find this regrettable. Even more tragic are the cases where people die while in the custody of security actors of the breakaways. In these cases, the Mission has consistently called for transparent investigations and facilitated communication to clarify circumstances.

2. What is EUMM's number one priority in Georgia? How can it be ensured?

Essentially, we are here to contribute to stability – to put it very directly we do what we can to prevent any shooting across the Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL). We also closely monitor the situation for the people who are most affected by the conflict. We analyze to what extent they have been able to return to normal, decent lives after the war – monitoring socio-economic conditions, their access to land at the ABL, freedom of movement and other basic rights. This applies to communities on both sides of the ABL. Strengthening communication and building confidence across the ABL is another core pillar of the mandate, which we have from EU member states.

We ensure communication on issues affecting local communities through a special Hotline and meeting in a format called the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM).

The Hotline is a telephone link which we operate that allows security personnel across the conflict divide to exchange information and deal with incidents as they occur. Use of the Hotline increases every year: Last year we had 2,181 - we have 7-8 activations every single day. In some cases – when it comes to coordination of medical crossings – the Hotline communication literally helps save lives.

The IPRM is a platform where parties to the conflict meet in person to exchange information and discuss security and practical humanitarian issues. I must be frank – in some cases, discussions are quite difficult and progress elusive. However, the format remains essential for managing security in the wider sense, and we do have achievements. These monthly meetings have proven very useful in developing greater confidence and cooperation between participants, even though discussions are at times challenging.

Furthermore, as the only international monitoring presence within Georgia, we provide impartial information on the situation on the ground not only to the EU but also to the wider international community.

3. How imminent is a danger to Georgia from Russia?

While the current situation on the ground is calm and stable, Russia maintains a military presence in areas that were not under its control before August 2008. Russia continues to enhance its military capabilities in the region. From an EU perspective, Russia’s military structures and personnel in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are in contravention with the commitments in the agreement (6PA) that ended the 2008 War. We can speculate about Russia’s intent, but there is no doubt concerning its military prowess. As the EU expects us to assess the risk of hostilities, we constantly monitor military dynamics across the Administrative Boundary Lines. As a new element from 2019, we will also specifically monitor hybrid threats to stability in the region.

4. What does the EUMM do to reach out to Georgians and inform them about their work?

The Mission engages in many outreach activities intended to keep people on both sides of the Administrative Boundary Lines informed of our work. As one example, we publish a bulletin entitled “The EUMM Monitor”, three times per year, in Georgian, Russian and English. Our latest issue has also been translated into Ossetian and Abkhaz. Future editions will be translated into Armenian and Azeri. Our webpage has content in five languages, including Ossetian and Abkhaz. Our monitors speak to people on the ground on a daily basis, and we organize regular Information Sharing Meetings for civil society, both in our Field Offices and in Mission Headquarters. We are also very active on social media, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Presentations of the Mission’s work are also regularly provided at conferences and in Georgian public institutions, NGOs, universities and think tanks.
Mission of the EU Monitoring Mission
5. What has been achieved by the EUMM since coming to Georgia?

While the conflict remains unresolved, there is stability on the ground. Through our 24/7 presence along the Administrative Boundary Lines and increasing activity over the Hotline, a number of incidents with a potential for escalation, have been addressed and resolved. In October 2018 we marked ten years of continuous EUMM presence in Georgia, an anniversary that none of us would have wished to see. However, it is our firm belief that the presence of the EUMM has allowed for continuing stability and, to the extent possible, provided some reassurance to the local population as they go about their daily lives. The women and men from the EU Member States who patrol 24/7 and 365/year, in general, have support from the population most affected by the conflict. It is often the case that resolutions found via the Hotline, or during meetings of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meetings have a significant impact on individuals and their communities. The EUMM remains committed to continuing in its monitoring and mediating role.

6. Are there any events organized by the EUMM for those who live along the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL)?

Quite often, our Mission Monitors speak in schools located in communities situated along the Administrative Boundary Lines. Some quite specific events which are openly discussed are ‘Europe Day’ (9 May) and ‘International Women’s Day’ (8 March). During the international campaign “16 Days of Activism" each autumn, we have a series of outreach activities campaigning against gender-based violence. Our events focus particularly on residents from all age groups living near the Administrative Boundary Lines. The Mission also has a Confidence Building Facility that finances small projects that span the Administrative Boundary Lines, including small events intended to generate dialogue and understanding.

7. In your opinion, what is the biggest achievement of the EUMM in Georgia?

We were never intended to be a tool for reaching a settlement of the conflict. The Mission is in place to help manage the conflict with the means at its disposal. It is important to remember that we are civilians and unarmed. Still, our presence and reporting, I believe, do affect actions and strategies by security personnel on the ground. We are a crisis management instrument. We came to work for stability, and the situation is relatively stable, though not robustly so. We still regrettably have occasions when tragedy occurs, most notably the killing of Mr. Giga Otkhozoria in Khurcha in May 2016 and the deaths of Mr. Davit Basharuli and Mr. Archil Tatunashvili in South Ossetia. Quite recently, we also facilitated the handover of the body of Mr. Irakli Kvaratskhelia. These instances remind us that there is no room for complacency - more than ten years after the conflict the role of EUMM is important and the work that we do is still relevant.

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