Georgian parliamentarians, governmental officials, local and international experts and representatives of international organizations, including OSCE, UNDP, UNHCR, as well as foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia, will participate in the conference.
President Saakashvili, who will address the conference on July 10, said, before departing to Adjara on July 8, that the Georgian side will continue, as he put it, an "aggressive peace process" to solve the South Ossetian conflict. "There is no alternative to [the peace process]... I am not going to wait for resolution of this conflict over the next hundred years," Mikheil Saakashvili said.
Discussion of Tbilisi's proposal over the South Ossetian peace plan will top the agenda of the conference. This official proposal, voiced for the first time by President Saakashvili in January at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, envisages granting South Ossetia "broad autonomous status" within the Georgian state. Distribution of competences between the South Ossetian and central authorities in Tbilisi will be guaranteed by constitutional law, according to the peace proposal. The South Ossetian side, which aspires to join Russia's North Ossetian Republic, has rejected this proposal.
"We will unveil a comprehensive action plan, which envisages detailed steps and measures which should be done in regard to resolution of this conflict," Goga Khaindrava, the Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues, told Civil Georgia on July 9.
Participants at the conference are also expected to discuss issues related to property restitution and other forms of compensation to the victims of the conflict. Georgia undertook a commitment to pass a law on Property Restitution in 1999 while joining the Council of Europe. But Tbilisi has failed so far to meet this commitment.
According to Tbilisi's peace proposal, once the Constitutional Law enters into force, a Law on Property Restitution shall be adopted with respect to the population that suffered from the conflict of 1990-1992 in South Ossetia. "Every affected family shall receive a lump-sum of monetary compensation," the document reads.
The venue of the conference - Adjara Autonomous Republic, which until last May was out of the control of Georgia's central authorities - is symbolically important for both the Georgian government and the breakaway South Ossetian leadership. For the Georgian government Adjara is an example of gaining control over defiant local authorities. Some observers argue that by choosing Adjara as the venue for the conference, the Georgian side has pushed the South Ossetian side to reject participation in this event.
The South Ossetian side explained its refusal to participate in the conference by the fact that it was organized only by the Georgian side. In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax on July 9 Boris Chochiev, the South Ossetian chief negotiator in talks with the Georgian side, said that if Tskhinvali, Moscow and the North Ossetian side could have participated in the process of preparing the conference, the South Ossetian side would have probably taken part in the event.
"It is absurd to discuss peace initiatives [put forth] by the Georgian government while there are not representatives from the South Ossetian side [present]," he added.
"Apparently, the idea of holding a conference of this kind is part of a so called 'peace initiative' by the Georgian President, which is designed more for a western audience rather than for real aspirations [by the Georgian side] to settle [the conflict] justly," Murat Jioyev, the Foreign Minister of breakaway South Ossetia said in June.
Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in the conflict zone remains extremely fragile, especially after a May 29 armed clash, which left four Ossetians and one Georgian policeman dead, and the disappearance of four Georgians on June 6, whose whereabouts still remain unknown. Consequences of this latter case being seen at present in the conflict zone. Reportedly, a major road in the conflict zone remains blocked by the local Georgian residents, who demand a prompt investigation into the disappearance of these four Georgians.
Despite an agreement reached by the Georgian and South Ossetian sides last month, joint investigative teams fail to start probing into these two cases. Tskhinvali claims that the Georgian side, which is not interested in investigation these recent accidents, especially the case involving the armed clash on May 29, is intentionally dragging out the investigation process.
This conference in Ajdara comes almost one year after deadly clashes broke out in the conflict zone between Georgian troops and South Ossetian militias. These clashes resulted in the death of at least 16 Georgian servicemen. An unspecified number of casualties, including members of the peaceful population, was reported from the South Ossetian side. Many analysts say that these clashes last August were a huge blow to the peace and confidence building process and now the Georgian government has to work hard to make the Ossetians believe in its peaceful intentions.
- United Nations Association of Georgia
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