Georgia

Georgian, Abkhaz sides cautiously optimistic after talks

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Both the Georgian and Abkhaz sides described the UN-mediated talks in Tbilisi on August 4 as a "constructive," a fact that has the potential to provide positive momentum for further negotiations between the conflicting sides.

The talks in Tbilisi were postponed twice because of a maritime incident in June where the Georgian Coast Guard seized a Turkish vessel en route to Abkhazia. In the end, the negotiations got underway on August 4 and were held in frames of the UN-led Geneva process, with the participation of the ambassadors of the UN Secretary-General's Group of Friends on Georgia - France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Security guarantees, involving the non-resumption of hostilities and the return of Georgian internally displaced persons to the breakaway region are the major issues discussed between the sides in this UN-led "Geneva process."

Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba and Deputy Defense Minister Gari Kupalba represented breakaway Abkhazia at talks, while the Georgian side was represented by State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava.

Georgian Presidential envoy for Abkhaz issues Irakli Alasania, who also chairs the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, was also expected to participate in talks. But he was absent because of the Abkhaz side's protest. Sokhumi denounces the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile as "illegitimate."

But both sides tried not to allow this to overshadow the entire negotiations process. The Abkhaz foreign minister said that Mr. Alasania is "a very constructive person" with whom it is possible to hold consultations, but not official talks, not while he is the chairman of Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government. However, later, on August 4 the Georgian media reported that Shamba had an informal conversation with Alasania in Tbilisi.

The signing of bilateral documents was not planned during the talks and the sides were mainly engaged in general discussions about current issues. The officials from both sides refrained from discussing the concrete details of the negotiations with the media. Georgian State Minister Giorgi Khaindrava said after talks that security grantees topped the agenda.

"If the sides have no guarantees on non-resumption of hostilities, it will be impossible to hold negotiations over other issues," Khaindrava said at a joint news conference with Sergey Shamba after the talks.

"We are optimistic; at least today we have this kind of stance. Today the situation gives us the opportunity to develop a process," Sergey Shamba said, adding that he is thankful to the Georgian delegation for a "fruitful and constructive meeting."

The return of Georgian internally displaced persons to Abkhazia, first of all to the Gali district, was also discussed during the talks. Thousands of Georgians have already returned spontaneously to this predominantly Georgian-populated district of the breakaway region. But the Georgian side wants this process to take place officially, with security guarantees for those Georgians who decide to return. The Abkhaz side agreed to conduct a registration of returned IDPs in the Gali district under the aegis of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

The sides also agreed to work out concrete measures to help Sokhumi and Tbilisi avoid maritime incidents similar to that one that occurred in early June, when the Georgian coast guard seized a Turkish vessel en route to Abkhazia. Tbilisi says that it will not allow the illegal movement of ships in Abkhazia without the prior notification of the Georgian side.

"Interesting proposals were put forward by the sides today, which might be formalized in an official document in the future, though differences over some issues remain. But it is important to continue working, to continue dialogue," Georgian State Minister Giorgi Khaindrava said.

He said that this is a long and difficult process and "no one should have the illusion that these problems will be solved in a couple of days."

Khaindrava said that if the process of negotiations continues in this constructive atmosphere, a bilateral meeting between Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili might also take place.

The next meeting in the frames of the "Geneva process" will take place in the first half of September in the Abkhaz capital of Sokhumi.

United Nations Association of Georgia
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