NEW GOVERNMENT OF GEORGIA COMMITTED TO PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF CONFLICT IN ABKHAZIA, PRIME MINISTER TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

29 April 2004
SC/8078

NEW GOVERNMENT OF GEORGIA COMMITTED TO PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF CONFLICT IN ABKHAZIA, PRIME MINISTER TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL

29/04/2004
Press ReleaseSC/8078

Security Council                                           

4958th Meeting (AM)                                         

NEW GOVERNMENT OF GEORGIA COMMITTED TO PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF CONFLICT

IN ABKHAZIA, PRIME MINISTER TELLS Security Council

The new Government in Georgia was committed to serious reforms and to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia, its Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, told the Security Council this morning.

Briefing the Council on the latest developments in Georgia and the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, the Prime Minister recalled that just a few months ago a new President and Parliament had been elected.  The Government had disarmed and neutralized the illegal armed factions, which had no connection either to the Government or internally displaced persons.  The Government had also detained several criminal groups operating in western Georgia, especially in areas adjacent to Abkhazia, which had been involved in kidnappings and abductions, and were connected to the kidnapping of personnel of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).

Noting that the relationship between his country and the Russian Federation had been strained over the Abkhazia issue, he said the situation today was qualitatively different and that “unprecedented steps” had been taken to improve the relations between the two States, with instantaneous results in a number of areas.  However, there were still serious problems regarding the conflict in Abkhazia, whose solution lay in the good will of everyone, including the Russian authorities.

He was expecting active steps from the Russian Federation to reach a fair, just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict.  The problem of separatism was as painful for Georgia as it was for Russia.  Separatism, ethnic cleansing and terrorism were evils that everyone, collectively, had to combat.  He reiterated that the main goal of Georgia’s new leadership was to restore the territorial integrity of the State, and to do so through peaceful means.  He looked to the international community, particularly the Council, to respond to the new realities in his country and reinvigorate their efforts to reach a comprehensive, peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The Prime Minister addressed the Council as it was considering the Secretary-General’s report on the matter (document S/2004/315), in which the Secretary-General states, among other things, that he is encouraged by the public commitment of the new Georgian leadership to pursuing a comprehensive settlement by peaceful means and by early practical actions taken within the zone of conflict.  He calls on the Abkhaz side to seriously review its position and to use the opportunity of the changing political climate in Tbilisi to commence meaningful negotiations on the substantive issues of the conflict.

The meeting was called to order at 10:17 a.m. and was adjourned 10:35 a.m., after the Council continued its deliberations in closed consultations.

Statement by Prime Minister of Georgia

ZURAB ZHVANIA, Prime Minister of Georgia, said that just a few short months ago, unprecedented and remarkable events took place in his country, with the election of the new President and Parliament.  The new Government was committed to the most serious of reforms and the entire country was moving towards a modern and democratic way of life.  He reiterated Georgia’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia, and underlined that not a single member of the new Government advocated violence.  A resolution to the conflict was only envisioned through peaceful, negotiated means.

Highlighting achievements as they related to Abkhazia, he said the Government had disarmed and neutralized the illegal armed factions, which had no connection either to the Government or internally displaced persons.  The Government had also detained several criminal groups, which operated in western Georgia, especially in areas adjacent to Abkhazia, and which were involved in kidnappings and abductions, including of United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) personnel.

He regretted that the investigation into the shooting down of the UNOMIG helicopter was only being carried out partially, he said.  Despite countless requests from his Government and UNOMIG, and despite the fact that the Russian Federation was providing video material, the Abkhaz leadership was refusing to allow the investigation to be carried out on the territory controlled by them.  It seemed that they had something to conceal.

He commended the wise decision to introduce a civilian police component in the Gali region.  However, the Abkhaz authorities were continuing to obstruct the component’s full formation and deployment.  The Security Council must strengthen the call on the Abkhaz side to comply with that decision.  It was also time to consider strengthening UNOMIG’s self-protective capacity.  That initiative, while introduced in the past, had never materialized.

He was actively participating in the Geneva process and placed much hope on its successful development.  At the same time, improved bilateral relations with the Russian Federation, with the participation of the Abkhaz side, could bring real progress.  In that regard, the third meeting in Geneva in February was an important step forward.  Unfortunately, the Abkhaz side refused to participate in the meeting.  That decision was most alarming and unacceptable for all the parties involved in the resolution of the conflict.  It was high time for the Security Council and the entire international community to pay more attention to the unconstructive position of the Abkhaz side and make appropriate conclusions.

The return of refugees and internally displaced persons, he said, was the subject of a thorough discussion at the third meeting.  He welcomed the elevation of that problem to the forefront of the peace process.  The problem was not just about isolated principles or concepts, but the fate of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, who fell victim to ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the separatist regime.

Two days ago, another meeting on the issue, held in Moscow, was also unsuccessful, he said.  Despite the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the participation of the Russian side, the unconstructive position of the Abkhaz side made it impossible for the document on the mechanisms of return of the internally displaced persons, the so-called letter of intent, to be adopted.  He called on the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, the Group of Friends, and the Russian Federation –- as a facilitator –- to increase their efforts to reach a just solution, to give those people the right to return home and live in a dignified, secure environment.

He recalled that the relationship between his country and the Russian Federation had been strained by the stalemate over the Abkhazia issue.  Today, the situation was qualitatively different.  Georgia’s new leadership had taken unprecedented steps to improve the relations between the two States.  The results in a number of areas were instantaneous.  The destructive rhetoric in the mass media was halted, and Georgian and Russian border guards had reached an agreement on joint patrolling of the common border.  There were still serious problems regarding the conflict in Abkhazia, whose solution lay in the good will of everyone, including the Russian authorities.

The most important issue in that regard was the political status of Abkhazia, he said.  Three years had elapsed since the Group of Friends agreed on and supported the Boden document on the distribution of constitutional competencies between Tbilisi and Sokhumi.  The Russian Federation, as the special facilitator, had been trying to transit the Paper to the Abkhaz side, but without much success.  He hoped that with the increased involvement of his Russian colleagues, it would be possible to begin meaningful deliberations on the political status of Abkhazia, based on the above-mentioned document.

He was expecting active steps from the Russian Federation to reach a fair, just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict.  The problem of separatism was as painful for Georgia as it was for Russia.  Separatism, ethnic cleansing and terrorism were evils that everyone, collectively, had to combat.  He reiterated that the main goal of Georgia’s new leadership was to restore the territorial integrity of the State, and to do so through peaceful means.  He looked to the international community, particularly the Council, to respond to the new realities in his country and reinvigorate their efforts to reach a comprehensive, peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.  Social unrest in that north-western region of Georgia escalated into separatist violence in 1992.  The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) was established in August 1993 to verify compliance with ceasefire agreements and to monitor human rights.  The Council unanimously extended the mandate of UNOMIG on 30 January until 31 July 2004, through resolution 1524.

Before the Council was the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2004/315), dated 20 April 2004, in which he states that lately his Special Representative, Heidi Tagliavini, and UNOMIG continued efforts to promote stability in a complex political environment and to assist the sides in renewing their dialogue, building common ground as a means of advancing the peace process.  Progress, however, remains painfully slow.  Disappointingly, there was no movement by the Abkhaz side on the core political question, and negotiations on a comprehensive political settlement have yet to begin.

There is, nevertheless, reason for cautious optimism in the longer term, the report states.  The change of leadership in Tbilisi has injected renewed vigour into the efforts of the Government to resolve the country’s internal conflicts.  The Secretary-General is encouraged by the public commitment of the new Georgian leadership to pursuing a comprehensive settlement by peaceful means and by early practical actions taken within the zone of conflict.  He calls on the Abkhaz side to seriously review its position and to use the opportunity of the changing political climate in Tbilisi to commence meaningful negotiations on the substantive issues of the conflict.

Given the present political environment, however, and the preoccupation of the Abkhaz side with upcoming “presidential elections”, as well as the necessary period of post-election stabilization in Tbilisi, UNOMIG will seek to build on the incremental progress achieved.  The Secretary-General strongly encourages the sides to implement the remaining recommendations of the joint assessment mission of 2000 and the security assessment mission of 2002, as a means of improving the security situation within the zone of conflict.

The Abkhaz side is also urged to permit the deployment of UNOMIG civilian police in the Gali sector, to facilitate improved police practices and better cooperation between local law enforcement agencies.  The Secretary-General welcomes the renewed interest on the Abkhaz side in the resumption of the work of the Coordinating Council and notes that this would be a useful and logical complement to the higher-level efforts of the Geneva meetings of the Group of Friends.  He appeals to the sides to use appropriate negotiating mechanisms for the discussion of substantive issues rather than to engage exclusively in procedural debate.

As security of UNOMIG personnel continues to be a major concern, closer cooperation between the sides is recommended, particularly in support of efforts to bring to justice those responsible for hostage incidents involving UNOMIG personnel.  That would contribute greatly to deliberations by UNOMIG on whether to resume its patrols in the KodoriValley.

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For information media. Not an official record.