TO the casual observer it looks like a small nondescript headstone placed inside a protective concrete barrier in Kilmarnock’s leafy Howard Park.

Hardly worth bothering about, you might think, but the small monument to the dead of Kilmarnock’s former twin town of Sukhumi who were killed in the Abkhazian-Georgian conflict of 1992-93 is once more at the centre of an international barney that is causing headaches for diplomats here and in the Republic of Georgia. It has even been a thorny subject at a major peace conference in Geneva.

SNP-led East Ayrshire Council is once again most unwantedly at the centre of international affairs and the local authority is not backing down in the face of pressure from foreign powers, and even from ‘powers’ 400 miles south.

It all began earlier this year when the matter of the mostly disregarded memorial was raised by the Georgian Embassy in London.

Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but has usually been on talking terms with its big neighbour Russia since then. Back in 1992, however, Russia backed a breakaway attempt by the pro-Russian movement in the Georgian region of Abkhazia where Kilmarnock just happened to have a twin town called Sukhumi.

After a war that lasted just over a year and saw thousands killed amidst claims of brutal ethnic cleansing, diplomacy took over and Georgia and what is often known as ‘de facto’ Abkhazia have been trying to find a solution to the region’s future ever since, though talks were set aside in 2008 when war engulfed the Georgian region of South Ossetia — Russia recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that year.

Sometime shortly after the first conflict, the memorial to the dead of Sukhumi was erected in Howard Park.

It is surmounted by the Abkhazian flag and states: “To the memory of those from our twin town of Sukhumi who died in the Abkhazian/Georgian conflict of 1992-93”.

For more than 20 years the memorial gathered dust and nobody said much about it until the Georgian Embassy in London pointed out that the UK Government doesn’t recognise Abkhazia — ‘so could the memorial be taken away’ they are supposed to have said.

It was reported that Georgia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tamar Beruchashvili, had said that when she paid a visit to Scotland, she was told the monument would be removed.

She was quoted as saying: “The local authorities got full information, shared the position of the British state towards the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and the local council decided to dismantle this monument.”

In November, the memorial disappeared, but East Ayrshire Council went to some pains to point out that it had been removed to a stonemason’s yard and would be back.

The National can confirm that the memorial is back in Howard Park with no changes to it. East Ayrshire Council told The National that the unchanged memorial has been back in place since 8 December but it is likely that an information board explaining the context of the monument will be installed alongside it.

The return has led to the ‘de facto’ Foreign Minister of Abkhazia, Daur Kove, to claim that the memorial stone has been re-erected.

The memorial was even discussed at a high-powered conference in Geneva which is trying to hammer out the future for Georgia.

According to Georgia Today: “Kove said on December 26 that during the recent round of Geneva International Discussions, co-Chairs of the talks informed de facto Abkhazian side that they contacted the Foreign Ministry of the United Kingdom, which confirmed the memorial was returned back to its place.”

Kove told reporters: “It is inadmissible to play with such things, as the memory and history of the people.”

The Georgian government has so far given no reaction.

A spokesperson for East Ayrshire Council said: “The memorial was restored without any changes on 8 December.

“It was discussed during talks in Geneva the week after that and East Ayrshire Council is currently preparing the content of a proposed information board which will set out the current position and its context.

“This will be shared with relevant parties for comment and agreement prior to installation of the board.”

In the Kilmarnock Edition of the works of Rabbie Burns — as quoted by East Ayrshire Council in their statement on the issue — it says: “For a’ that, and a’ that, It’s coming yet for a’ that, That Man to Man, the world o’er, Shall brothers be for a’ that.”