Georgia

Abkhaz leaders reject new UN proposal

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During recent talks in Sukhum, the ambassadors in Tbilisi of the five member countries of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group tasked with mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict -- France, Germany, Great Britain, the United States, and Russia -- have apparently failed to persuade the Abkhaz leadership of the merits of a new proposal drafted by the "friends" last month, Caucasus Press reported on 4 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 February 2003). Astamur Tania, who is an aide to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, objected that the new proposals duplicate the existing UN-sponsored Coordinating Council. Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia told journalists in Sukhum that the "friends" are trying to force Abkhazia to renounce its independence and revert to being an integral part of Georgia. In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 21 January, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, commented that the Abkhaz negotiating position has hardened since Gagulia replaced Anri Djergenia as Abkhaz premier late last year. LF
IS RUSSIA MAKING CONTINGENCY PLANS TO WITHDRAW PEACEKEEPERS FROM ABKHAZIA?

Lieutenant General Valerii Yevnevich, who is commander of peacekeeping operations for the Russian armed forces, arrived in Tbilisi on 4 March for talks with Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze, Caucasus Press reported. Yevnevich earlier inspected the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in South Ossetia and in the Abkhaz conflict zone. Caucasus Press on 4 March quoted an unnamed local official in western Georgia as saying that contingency plans have been drafted for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force that has been deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone since mid-1994. That official reportedly claimed that the revisions to that force's mandate that Tbilisi is demanding are unacceptable to the Russian side. Interfax on 4 March quoted Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba as saying that Sukhum categorically opposes the peacekeepers' withdrawal, but that if they do leave the conflict zone the Abkhaz armed forces are ready and able to protect Abkhazia's borders. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES ABKHAZ OFFICIAL WILL ATTEND PUTIN-SHEVARDNADZE TALKS

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze denied on 4 March reports that either Abkhaz Prime Minister Gagulia or President Ardzinba might attend the talks scheduled to take place in Sochi on 6-7 March between Presidents Putin and Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Those talks are to focus on ways to resolve the Abkhaz conflict and on Georgia's objections to the restoration of rail communications between Sochi and Sukhum and the granting of Russian citizenship to any Abkhaz who apply for it. LF

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