Georgia

Georgia promotes its conflict-resolution plan

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Molly Corso 4/24/07

President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration in Georgia is courting NATO and United Nations support for its plans to resolve the country's so-called frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Over the past week, Georgia's primary diplomatic focus was on South Ossetia. On April 20, Georgian leaders "introduced" Dmitiri Sanakoyev, the Tbilisi-backed, alternative leader of South Ossetia, to Western diplomats and international organizations during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's 65th Rose-Roth seminar in the Georgian capital.

While not on the official list of conference participants, both Sanakoyev and de facto leader Eduard Kokoiti were invited to attend, according Zurab Bendiaishvili, an invited specialist for the parliament's temporary commission on territorial integrity issues. However, Bendiaishvili downplayed the importance of Sanakoyev's appearance at the forum, noting that since the Georgian government has created an administrative post for Sanakoyev, "informal presentations" like the conference are not crucial.

Kokoiti's de facto government has condemned Tbilisi's efforts to promote Sanakoyev. In a joint statement released April 22 on the Tskhinvali leadership's website, de facto authorities in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia attacked the "puppet governments" that Tbilisi supports in both conflict zones. "The purpose of such moves is no secret to anyone," the statement reads. "Georgian authorities are trying to create an illusion of settlement, making use of the surrogate authorities on the territories it temporarily controls. ... If the Georgian government intends to spark further tensions, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali will officially withdraw from [peace] talks."

Both de facto leaders declared that if the Georgian government achieves its goal of joining NATO, they would withdraw from talks aimed at brokering political settlements.

Although the NATO-sponsored seminar in Tbilisi included a session on conflict resolution, political scientist Shalva Pichkhadze maintains NATO is not -- and has not been -- actively involved in trying to settle Georgia's conflicts. While he noted that Sanakoyev's presence at the seminar was a good opportunity for the government to promote the alternative leader to Western diplomats and international organizations, NATO is simply "not interested" in the details of the country's peace plans. According to Pichkhadze, the chairman of the board at the NGO Georgia for NATO, the Atlantic Alliance appeared more interested in other issues -- primarily democratic and economic reforms -- at the present time.

Simon Lunn, the secretary-general of NATO's parliamentary assembly, noted during the seminar that the alliance "hopes" the conflicts will be resolved before Georgia joins the coalition -- although resolution alone should not determine the country's status. "We hope these conflicts would be solved before, but alongside that there has to be a statement that these conflicts cannot be seen as a barrier," various Georgian media outlets quoted Lunn as saying April 19.

The Rose-Roth seminar wasn't Tbilisi's only opportunity this month to showcase its conflict-resolution plans. On April 10, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli addressed the United Nations Security Council in New York on Georgia's peace initiates in Abkhazia. According to media reports of Noghaideli's presentation, Georgia today is prepared to offer a lesser degree of autonomy than was the case in earlier peace plans. The Georgian government has not officially disclosed details of its latest peace blueprint. On April 12, Abkhazia's de facto foreign minister, Sergey Shamba, demanded Tbilisi abandon "illusions" about Sukhumi's willingness to accept autonomous status within Georgia. "We can only talk about our intergovernmental relations," Shamba said in an interview on Imedi television.

Three days after Noghaideli's presentation, the Security Council extended the UN Observer Mission in Georgia. Political analysts say the Resolution 1752 marks a limited victory at best for Georgian diplomacy. While the resolution's wording is somewhat favorable for Georgia, analysts pointed out that the Security Council did not support Tbilisi's efforts to internationalize the peacekeeping force, and thus diminish Russia's ability to influence events. In a resolution six months ago, the Security Council rapped Georgia for carrying out a "police" action in the Upper Kodori Gorge, an area of Georgian-controlled territory in Abkhazia.

Georgian officials generally lauded the latest resolution, which stresses the concept of Georgia's territorial integrity and includes numerous references to "Abkhazia, Georgia." At the same time, the resolution still refers to both the Abkhazian and Georgian "sides." According to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Resolution 1752 reflects a new, "objective demand" from the Security Council -- the right of return for over 200,000 Georgian displaced persons, along with the "new generation growing up outside" of the conflict zone. Irakli Alasania, Georgia's UN ambassador, characterized the resolution is "another step" toward the resolution of the conflict.

Those outside of government were less upbeat in their assessments. Conflict analysts like Dr. Giorgi Khutsishvili noted that the council's decision was more "reserved" than Tbilisi had anticipated. "[Resolution 1752] does not contain any essentially new material in my assessment," said Khutsishvili, who is the director of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation. "This is very reserved resolution that calls on both parties to resume dialogue and implement decision of the [February UN Group of Friends] Geneva meeting. ... Everyone was expecting that based on the Geneva meeting, the council decision would be more advanced."

Resolution 1752 avoided assigning blame for an incident in March in which three surface-to-surface missiles exploded in the gorge, where the Tbilisi-backed government in exile maintains its headquarters. According to the Georgian government, the attack was an act of Russian aggression. Moscow has denied any involvement. A four-party investigatory panel, headed by the UN, has been probing the incident for the past month. To date, the panel has not announced any findings. While the council did denounce the attack in Resolution 1752, Khutsishvili noted that didn't contain a genuine expression of "concern" for the civilian population living there -- or Tbilisi's right to protect them.

Russian authorities have also praised Resolution 1752. According to Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN envoy, the statement included "several" Moscow backed initiatives, most importantly the UN's continued support of the CIS -- effectively Russian -- peacekeeping force in the conflict zone.

The Georgian government has long been fighting to reverse the 1994 agreement that grants Russia, largely through the CIS peacekeeping force, a preferred status within the negotiating framework. According to Tbilisi, the Russian dominated peacekeeping force does more to impede than to promote a settlement. The Georgian government has secured the backing of some states, such as Ukraine, for its effort to change the composition of the peacekeepers. But Tbilisi still lacks sufficient international support to overcome Russian opposition to any change.

Editor's Note: Molly Corso is a freelance reporter and photojournalist based in Tbilisi.

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