Latest round of Georgian-Abkhaz talks sparks new controversy

News and Press Release
Originally published
On 27-28 February, Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia held talks in Sukhum with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's special representative Anri Djergenia. Caucasus Press on 29 February quoted Djergenia as saying that he and Adamia reached provisional agreement on the wording of an agreement on a ceasefire and measures to preclude a resumption of hostilities. That document, together with a companion agreement on the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons and measures to restore the socio-economic situation in Abkhazia, had been under discussion since 1998 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 6 May 1999). Djergenia said the latter document "needs polishing," and that both sides will exchange proposals on the final wording within the next 10 days, after which a further meeting will be scheduled. Djergenia said Abkhazia's future status within Georgia was not discussed during the talks, which were also attended by UN Special Representative Dieter Boden.

But Adamia gave a different slant on his talks with Djergenia, saying that they did focus on Abkhazia's future status within Georgia, and that he had stressed that the Abkhaz leadership's insistence that the breakaway region is an independent state "leads negotiations into a blind alley and may have unpredictable consequences." Adamia added that the repatriation of the displaced persons must precede any measures to restore Abkhazia's economy.

Caucasus Press, however, quoted Boden as expressing "shock" at both versions. The news agency quoted the German diplomat as saying that Abkhazia's status was discussed, albeit only briefly, as were the two draft documents. Caucasus Press further quoted Boden as saying that a certain rapprochement between the two sides' positions was reached. Boden also reportedly disclosed that a new draft document delineating the division of constitutional authority between Georgia and Abkhazia, which is being drafted by the UN in conjunction with the states that belong to the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia" group, is near completion.

In addition, Boden expressed concern at a statement made by Adamia on 1 March, after his return from Sukhumi. Adamia said that if the Abkhaz leadership continues to reject the offer of autonomous status within Georgia, Tbilisi may resort to the "Chechen variant," implying that Tbilisi would launch a military campaign to bring the breakaway region back under its control. Such statements, Caucasus Press quoted Boden as saying, run counter to Georgian President Eduard
Shevardnadze's insistence that the Abkhaz conflict must be resolved by exclusively peaceful means.

Finally, Boden said that the UN is preparing a response to President Ardzinba's 14 February letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In that missive, a copy of which has been made available to RFE/RL, Ardzinba recalled that in April 1994 Georgian and Abkhaz representatives had signed a Declaration "On measures for a political solution of the Georgian-Abkhazia conflict." An appendix to that Declaration stipulated that "Abkhazia will be a subject with sovereign rights within the framework of a union State to be established as a result of negotiations after issues in dispute have been settled." Proceeding from that definition, the Russian Foreign Ministry in June 1997 drafted a Protocol "On a Georgian-Abkhazian Resolution," which served as the basis for intensive negotiations, but which Tbilisi finally rejected.

Since that time, the Georgian leadership has insisted that the highest status it can offer Abkhazia is that of the broadest imaginable autonomy within Georgia. Ardzinba slammed that proposal as "the intention of the metropolis to preserve its power over a colony." He further argued that it constitutes a violation of the April 1994 Declaration.

Ardzinba also rejected as "unjustifiable" the refusal of the international community to acknowledge the legality either of his election in October 1999 for a second presidential term or of the referendum held concurrently in which the population of Abkhazia affirmed its approval of the region's independence. Ardzinba noted that as a result of the repatriation of displaced persons which got underway in March 1999, more than 60,000 people had returned to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, raising the total population of Abkhazia to approximately 2/3 of its prewar level of some 500,000. (The Georgian authorities reject those figures, claiming that there are still some 300,000 displaced persons from Abkhazia elsewhere in Georgia.)

There can be no doubts, Ardzinba reasoned, concerning the legality of either the presidential election or of the referendum, given that the overwhelming majority of the Abkhaz population cast their ballot. Consequently, Ardzinba continued, "any attempt to impose a discussion of the question of Abkhazia's possible entry into the composition of Georgia will be deemed by us interference into our internal affairs." The Abkhaz, Ardzinba continues, "are prepared to discuss only one question--the question of the possible mutual relations between two sovereign states of equal rights--Abkhazia and Georgia." (Liz Fuller)

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