Tbilisi Pushes South Ossetia Peace Initiative at Batumi Conference

In his opening remarks at an international conference on South Ossetia in Batumi on July 10, President Saakashvili described Tbilisi’s proposal about the South Ossetian status as “a dream list,” which provides Tskhinvali everything it desires except independence. “We will not tolerate Georgia’s disintegration,” Saakashvili said.

The Georgian government-sponsored two-day conference, assembled in Batumi, Adjara Autonomous Republic, featured top-level Georgian officials, envoys from international organizations and dozens of local and international experts. Authorities of breakaway South Ossetia boycotted the event and denounced it as “a PR action” staged by the Georgian government.

“Despite my appreciation for you, I would have been much happier to talk all about this [peace plan] with the representatives of the local [South Ossetian] population and not with foreign envoys and ambassadors. Meeting with you was not my priority,” Saakashvili said while addressing the international experts at the conference.

In his speech, President Saakashvili once again outlined the principles of Tbilisi’s peaceful initiative, which was voiced by him at the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe in January and also announced a few new additional proposals, which, as he put it, aim at confidence building between the conflicting sides.

He said that Tbilisi is ready to grant South Ossetia “absolute self-governance,” cultural autonomy, a “privileged regime” of border crossing with Russia, as well as a privileged economic and tax system, as well as property restitution.

He also said that the Georgian side is ready to allocate seats for South Ossetian representatives in Georgia’s central government, both in the legislative and executive branches. Saakashvili said that this proposal is “statistically inadequate” referring to the fact that ethnic Ossetians, as he said, comprise less than 1% of Georgia’s entire population. “But this is an adequate proposal from the reality point of view,” Saakashvili added.

Saakashvili also vowed that the Georgian side has enough financial resources to provide the South Ossetia population with pensions in amounts equal to those which are currently provided in Russia. 

The Georgian President also said that Tbilisi is ready to offer some new proposals as well, including the allocation of 15 minutes of air time on the Georgian Public Television daily, so that the South Ossetian side can voice its position. He also said that Tbilisi wants to create a regional broadcasting service which will be chaired by representatives from both sides.

“We are ready to repay the pension debt, which has been accumulating since the early 90s and we are ready to envisage this expanses in the 2006-2009 state budget,” Saakashvili added.

He said that the Georgia’s School of Administration is ready to receive 50 would-be students from South Ossetia and provide courses for free.

“We have not received an adequate response [from the South Ossetian side] regarding this proposal. This plan is, actually a dream list. There is everything that the local Ossetians have ever dreamed of,” Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili said that the Georgian government, which enjoys huge support fromt the country’s population, is now ready “to make drastic and extraordinary steps.”

He said that the Georgian government has changed its approach and perceptions about this conflict. “For example, even the mention of the term – South Ossetia – would have been equal to political suicide in previous years,” he said. Many Georgians, including politicians, refer to this breakaway region as the ‘Tskhinvali Region’ or Samachablo in an attempt to avoid the use of the term ‘South Ossetia,’ which is a source of irritation for the South Ossetian side.

Saakashvili said that keeping the current status quo is “unacceptable and impossible as well.” “A term itself – frozen conflicts – is foolish,” he added.

He called for a resumption of talks between the Georgian Prime Minister and South Ossetian leader. A previous meeting of this kind was held last November in the Russian Black Sea town of Sochi between late Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and President of the breakaway region Eduard Kokoity.


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