UN-led Georgian-Abkhaz Talks Thwarted

The Abkhaz side’s refusal to participate in the UN-led talks in Tbilisi on July 22 was described by officials in Tbilisi as an attempt to thwart the Geneva process, which involves a series of Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations with the participation of the Georgia’s Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General (France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States).

Foreign Minister of breakaway Abkhazia Sergey Shamba cited the Georgian side’s failure to hand over to Abkhaz cargo – mainly construction materials – confiscated by the Georgian coast guard on July 3 after the seizure of a Turkish vessel en route to Abkhazia.

“We were promised that the cargo would be handed over on Thursday, but this has not happened yet. We can not hold talks against the backdrop of such an incident,” Shamba said.

Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava described this reason of refusal by the Abkhaz side as “absurd.” He said that the delivery of cargo is delayed only because of technical problems.

“We have offered the Abkhaz side to deliver the cargo to Sokhumi. But they do not want a Georgian vessel to ship the cargo, or they do not want a Georgian ship captain to be involved,” Giorgi Khaindrava told Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 television.

Khaindrava said that the vessel incident is just an excuse and not the real reason behind the Abkhaz side’s boycott. “This [refusal] is especially strange because we planned to discuss during the talks those mechanisms through which we will be able to avoid maritime incidents in the future. The Abkhaz side should have been interested in these talks,” he said.

“But the real reason is that they are trying to thwart the Geneva process,” Khaindrava said.

Talks within the framework of the Geneva process mainly concern issues related to security guarantees in the conflict zone and the return of Georgian internally displaced persons to Abkhazia. These talks are held under the auspices of the UN.

Earlier, on July 22, the Georgian State Minister told reporters that the delay in delivery of cargo in Sokhumi did not prevent the Abkhaz side from participation in talks over the restoration of the railway link via Abkhazia, which were held in Sokhumi on July 19. These talks are held in the framework of the so-called “Sochi format,” which is informally led by Russia.

Russia and Georgia agreed to jointly work over the resumption of the Abkhaz railway in March 2003, when Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze singed an agreement in Sochi to restore the railway connection and simultaneously launch the process of returning Georgian internally displaced persons to Abkhazia. But recently the issue of the railway has largely overshadowed discussions about the return of Georgian displaced persons.

The issue of the return of internally displaced persons is extremely sensitive for both sides. On July 14 an influential group of Abkhaz opposition parties organized under the heading “Forum of People’s Unity” issued a strong-worded statement categorically demanding that the authorities take a hard-line stance to prevent the return of Georgian internally displaced persons to Abkhazia. The opposition also called on the unrecognized republic’s government not to issue Abkhaz passports to those Georgians in the Gali district who have spontaneously returned to this historically predominately Georgian district.

In a statement issued on July 22 the UN Observer Mission in Georgia expressed regret over the Abkhaz side’s refusal to arrive in Tbilisi, which resulted in the postponement of talks.

Treaty on Non-Resumption of Hostilities

Despite failed talks, the Georgian side handed over to representatives of the Georgia’s Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General on July 22 a proposal envisaging the signing of a joint Georgian-Abkhaz declaration on non-resumption of hostilities.

Irakli Alasania, the Georgian President’s representatives in talks over Abkhazia, who also chairs the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, told reporters on July 22, that the document also deals with the issues related with safe return of Georgian internally displaced persons to Abkhazia.

“Although we have announced many times that Georgia wants this conflict to be solved peacefully, we understand the concerns of the Abkhaz society and decided to propose this joint declaration,” Giorgi Khaindrava said.

Georgian authorities have already undertaken commitment under the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO to solve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by peaceful means.

“The Georgian Government is committed to solving these problems by peaceful means, in cooperation with relevant international organizations and in accordance with appropriate international standards,” the document, which sets Georgia’s reform goals, reads.


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