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EU Observers in Georgia Face Many Hurdles

The EU is picking up the pace. Within four weeks, 200 EU observers are slated to go to Georgia. The nature of their duties is not yet clear, but a few obstacles can already be detected.

Georgian soldiers stand at their checkpoint near a Russian troops' checkpoint in the village of Karaleti, northwest of Gori, Georgia, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008.

The Russians have announced their withdrawal and set their conditions

The EU wants to send at least 200 unarmed observers to Georgia by Oct. 1.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, center, is surround by security personnel as he arrives for a conclave meeting of his Social Democratic Party in Werder, Germany, on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008.

Steinmeier says Germany could send 40 observers

According to the European-Russian agreement from Monday, Sept. 8, 2008, Russia will withdraw its troops ten days later from all of Georgia – including the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The EU now has a little less than four weeks to find enough suitable observers.

In Passau on Wednesday, Sept, 10, Angela Merkel announced that Germany could provide up to 40 observers. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has confirmed this in the meantime.

How many German observers will really set off to Tiflis and what their responsibilities there will be, however, is still unclear. The EU Foreign Ministers conference, which will meet this coming Monday, Sept. 15 in Brussels, must first formally seal the plan and then determine the details.

Cooperation is key for a successful observers mission

The EU: close-knit and proactive?

Behind the scenes, preparations for the mission are running at full steam. The Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), which organizes the recruiting and training of the observer's in Germany, has already sent a list of 15 to 20 potential observers to the Department for Foreign Affairs.

This list with staff suggestions will then be sent on to the European Council in Brussels, which will decide upon the observers at the last minute.

The ZIF was founded in 2002 by the federal government and the Federal Council in order to be able to quickly recruit candidates for foreign assignments.

Observer group "overwhelmed"

But the ZIF itself is overwhelmed by the current situation. It won't be able to acquire more than 20 German observers by Oct. 1, says Jens Behrendt, head of the recruiting department.

The task of the observers is to collect information in a crisis area and report this news back to governments or multilateral organizations.

In fulfilling their duty, observers can act either passively, passing on the information they have at their disposal, or they can take a more active information-gathering role with the government, the military and civilians.

Eight observers with free movement

Following the agreement between EU President Sarkozy and the less-than-eager Russian President Medvedev, the EU observers can now travel to Georgia, but they don't have the right to gather information in South Ossetia. They will only be able to go as far as the buffer zone on the Georgian side, and thus will only be able to paint a partial picture of the situation.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose shadow is seen at right, in the presidential residence outside Moscow on Monday, Sept. 8, 2008.

Sarkozy wants coopration from Russia

But there are observers who are also allowed to move throughout the breakaway territories. These are a total of eight people from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Russia is a member of the OSCE, which has been present in the Caucasus since 1992 with unarmed military observers. Their goal is to prevent conflicts. In the wake of the August military actions, the OSCE increased its personnel in the region.

Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, welcomed the EU's involvement. Nesirky said it is a international engagement in the Caucasus is a positive development. Good coordination of the observers is a prerequisite for success, however, Nesirky added. All of this must be clarified by multilateral talks.

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