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Germany Takes Lead in Abkhaz Diplomatic Efforts

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, will visit Tbilisi and Sokhumi on July 17-18 and will then travel to Moscow.

“The goal of the trip is to find with all the affected parties ways out of the logic of escalation, out of this spiral of constantly escalating incidents. It is about building trust and creating the specific conditions for a solution that will be acceptable for all,” AFP quoted a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andreas Peschke, as saying on July 16.

Germany, which chairs the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends on Georgia dealing with Abkhaz issues, has recently proposed a so-called three-stage plan for Abkhaz conflict settlement.

Although Russia still has not publicly made its position known on the plan, Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh has already rejected it.

The plan is not public, but Der Spiegel reported last week that it would involve a year of trust-building measures, including the signing of a treaty on the non-use of force and the beginning of the return of internally displaced persons in phase one. The second phase, the following year, would see the beginning of reconstruction work, with Berlin organizing a donors’ fundraising conference, and the third would involve defining Abkhazia’s political status.

Alexandre Lomaia, the secretary of the Georgian National Security Council (NSC), said late on July 16 that the plan was still in the process of elaboration and high-level western involvement over the matter aimed at giving the plan final shape.

“There are positive elements in the plan, including the return of IDPs, economic rehabilitation and others,” Lomaia told Rustavi 2 TV’s weekly program Triangle.

He, however, also said that the plan needed to be “further reinforced” by outlining Russia’s role. “It should take into consideration Russia’s negative role and it should also lay out what kind of role Russia can have in the future,” Lomaia said.

The NSC head said that Tbilisi also had its own Abkhaz peace plan. “These two plans can be compatible and by their merger we can produce a realistic plan,” Lomaia said.

Lomaia said Tbilisi wanted the return of internally displaced persons to start immediately, particularly to the Gali and Ochamchire districts of Abkhazia. He said, however, that as long as Russian peacekeepers remained stationed there, IDP return would be impossible.

Instead of Russian peacekeepers, Tbilisi is proposing an internationally supervised joint Abkhaz-Georgian police force in the two districts.

Lomaia said Tbilisi was considering unilaterally ending the current Russian peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia, but such an option, he said, would not be immediately taken so as to give the international community more time to convince Russia to play a constructive role.

“We welcome the fact in itself that Germany took this initiative [to become actively engaged in the process], because Germany on the one head is a leading European state and on the other hand Germany has special relations with Russia,” Lomaia said.

The German foreign minister is set to meet opposition leaders in Tbilisi, before travelling on to Batumi, where he will meet President Saakashvili on July 17. From there he will travel to Sokhumi.

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