REUTERS - Failure to extend the United Nation's monitoring presence in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region would undermine stability and leave ethnic Georgians there unprotected, the mission head said on Friday.
The mission's mandate expires on June 15, and the U.N. Security Council is split between the West and Russia over the wording of a resolution to extend it.
Russia wants it to reflect Abkhazia's assertion that it is an independent state, recognised by the Kremlin and secured by Russian forces since last year's five-day war between Russia and Georgia over the rebel region of South Ossetia.
Georgia, backed by the United States and European members of the Security Council, insists the document must reaffirm Georgian sovereignty over the Black Sea region, which broke away in war in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
U.N. special representative Johan Verbeke did not discuss the chances of a deal, which diplomats say is on a knife-edge.
But he cautioned that without the mission, "you end up having a situation where there is no longer the security regime, where there are no longer the monitors, and therefore intrinsically a situation where stability is less secured than it is currently."
"You basically leave the population on its own," the Belgian diplomat told Reuters in Tbilisi.
"It (the population) has to stay there, but there is no ... international presence on which they can rely for securing a minimum environment that allows them to live normally."
Abkhazia's ethnic Georgian community complains of discrimination and harassment, and says security has worsened since last year's war.
Analysts warn that instability in Abkhazia and the possibility of a new refugee wave could worsen political tensions in Tbilisi, where the opposition has been protesting for two months demanding President Mikheil Saakashvili quit.
Several dozen egg-throwing protesters scuffled with security guards outside parliament on Friday after the assembly defied the protests and sat for the first time since the opposition took to the streets in April.
The mandate for around 170 U.N. observers in Abkhazia was extended in February with a resolution that largely fudged the issue of territorial integrity and even the name of the mission -- officially the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia.
Saakashvili said on Thursday Georgia would not compromise on its territorial integrity, "regardless of how much we might want to maintain the U.N. mission."
Georgian U.N. ambassador Kakha Lomaia told Reuters that a draft resolution prepared by Western powers would beef up the mission's monitoring role, but that veto-holding Moscow remained opposed to the text.
A similar dispute over sovereignty has forced a halt to negotiations on the mandate of military monitors of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in South Ossetia, after Russia insisted they be separated from the mission in Georgia.
The OSCE monitors have been unable to enter South Ossetia since August, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the region. The mission has until June 30 to pull out of Georgia.