The arrival in Georgia last week of German diplomat Dieter Boden, who succeeds Liviu Bota as special representative of the UN Secretary-General, has given rise to optimism in Tbilisi that a resumption of the deadlocked talks on a solution to the Abkhaz conflict may be imminent. Those hopes derive primarily from Boden's earlier tour of duty in Georgia in 1995-1996 as head of the OSCE mission, during which he mediated between the central government in Tbilisi and the leadership of the breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. Characterizing Boden "an experienced diplomat with a versatile mind," Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he is certain that Boden will be able to expedite a political solution to the Abkhaz conflict. But Georgia's Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, who, like Shevardnadze, met with Boden earlier this week, cautioned against expecting miracles from the new UN Special Representative, stressing the need for "constant single-minded efforts" on Georgia's part to achieve a settlement.
All efforts over the past five years to come up with a political agreement on relations between Abkhazia and the central Georgian authorities have failed. Abkhazia, whose unilaterally proclaimed independence has not been recognized by any state, wants Georgia to be designated a confederation in which Abkhazia would be an equal partner, with the right to opt out of that confederation and attain formal recognition as an independent state. Tbilisi, for its part, insists it can offer Abkhazia no more than autonomy -- the status which the region had prior to the collapse of the USSR.
The most recent statement on Abkhazia adopted by the President of the UN Security Council, dated 12 November, welcomes Boden's appointment. It also notes "the intention of the Special Representative to submit as soon as possible further proposals to both sides on the distribution of constitutional competence between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, as part of a comprehensive settlement, with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders."
Caucasus Press quoted Boden as having told Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania that he will not unveil any new proposals before his return from Abkhazia, where he met on 30 November with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba. But two recent Georgian statements cast doubt on whether Boden will indeed be the one to author the new blue print for resolving the conflict, and if not, how large the Georgian input in that draft will prove to be. President Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 November that "Georgia and the UN have started work on determining the political status of Abkhazia." And Shevardnadze's advisor on international law, Levan Aleksidze told Caucasus Press one week later that "if Abkhazia does not agree to Georgia's proposals on its status," which Caucasus Press quoted him as saying provide for "the broadest rights which a state could bestow on its regions," then Tbilisi will demand the imposition of economic sanctions in Abkhazia, albeit only as a last report.
Such threats are unlikely to cut much ice in Sukhumi. Nor is the Abkhaz leadership likely to prove any more willing now to make concessions on the key issue of its future status vis-a-vis Tbilisi than it has been in the past. In an interview published in "Respublika Abkhaziya" 10 days ago, President Ardzinba, who was reelected unopposed in October for a second five-year term, defined as one of his main priorities establishing contacts with states that might be amenable to recognizing Abkhazia's independence. The Caucasus Press summary of that interview did not indicate which, if any, countries Ardzinba named in that context.
Acknowledging the economic deprivation that the Abkhaz population has suffered as a result of the restrictions imposed on cross-border trade with the Russian Federation, Ardzinba added that he hopes "the worst is behind us." As part of its ongoing campaign to pressure the Georgian leadership, the Russian government unilaterally lifted those restrictions in September. (Liz Fuller)
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