|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY GEORGIA
The Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, briefed correspondents at Headquarters this afternoon in the wake of the Security Council’s decision to extend for six months the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).
Mr. Alasania said that the Georgian side welcomed the extension of the mandate and was very pleased that the resolution contained a few new segments, one of which was that the situation in the upper Abkhazia region had been assessed as stable, contrary to the view of one Council member. The second important segment, paragraph 10, concerned the reliable timeframe in which the sides should create the security environment for the return of internally displaced persons.
While he welcomed those new segments, he said that the text had failed to reflect some new developments, particularly the Georgian President’s peace initiative of 28 March. The proposal to the Abkhaz side envisaged the setting up of a joint free economic zone in the Gali and Ochamchire districts, guaranteed Abkhaz representation in central executive and legislative bodies, and the establishment of a constitutionally guaranteed position of Vice-President of Georgia for the ethnically Abkhaz representative, who would be delegated a right of veto for all decisions concerning Abkhazia status and rights.
It had been underlined repeatedly that the Georgian authorities would offer Abkhazia “wide federalism”, as well as the necessary preconditions for developing their culture, language and national identity, he said. Abkhazia would enjoy unlimited autonomy within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders. The President’s initiative also called on the international community, including the Russian Federation, to play a fundamental role in ensuring those guarantees. Respective ministries had been instructed to inform the Abkhaz side about the new initiative and facilitate intensification of direct links between the two sides.
He added that success of the peace initiative depended on the international community’s more active involvement, including that of the Russian Federation, in the ongoing United Nations-led comprehensive assessment of the peace process.
The State Minister for Reintegration of Georgia had been entrusted with the task of elaborating a special programme to ensure reintegration of former combatants, their retraining and employment. Also by the President’s instruction, inter-governmental working groups on legal, economic and political issues had been set up. Their aim was to thoroughly process the new peace initiative, develop a plan for its implementation, enter into a direct dialogue with the de facto authorities and involve the international community in the process.
He said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia maintained that the new peace proposals opened up completely new perspectives for peaceful conflict resolution, created a unique mechanism for the protection of rights of national minorities in Georgia and provided additional opportunities for the engagement of the international community in the conflict resolution process. Indeed, the Georgian authorities’ new peace initiative provided the only reasonable and peaceful alternative to the “dangerous and provocative steps recently masterminded by the external forces in the conflict zones”.
Expressing gratitude to the majority of Security Council members who had welcomed the President’s comprehensive peace initiative, he reiterated his country’s wish to see the Russian Federation as a partner in peacemaking. Unquestionably, that was in both countries’ mutual interest, and he appealed to the Russian Federation to support Georgia’s new peace initiative, in order to build a solid foundation for peace and stability in the greater Caucasus region.
Responding to correspondents’ questions, he said that unlimited autonomy for the people of Abkhazia meant the Abkhaz people would have their say in all subjects of concern to their autonomous status within a unified Georgian State. It meant that they would have foreign trade rights, self-government, legislative and executive organs, and be represented at the federal or central government agencies. The vice-presidential post meant they would have a say in foreign and other matters to be decided by Georgia. The proposal effectively gave them “unlimited autonomy within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia”.
Georgia was open to negotiating with the Abkhaz side; it was not taking any unilateral steps, he added.
Asked to comment on reports that the leader of the Abkhaz de facto entity had already rejected the proposal, he said he thought the main target of the initiative was not only the de facto leader, but the Abkhaz ethnic group. The proposal aimed to show that Georgia was not a threat to them and that it was really willing to take into account their security and other legitimate concerns, which would later be enshrined in constitutional changes.
He added that he would have anticipated that reaction initially. What counted was how to deal in direct talks with the Abkhaz side and how to explain to them what the offer would do for the Abkhaz nation. Such a direct dialogue would be planned soon.
As for reports of the opening of embassies and the resumption of Russian flights into Abkhazia, he said the opening of embassies did not deserve serious discussion. He was not aware that the Russian side had opened up a direct air link to the Abkhaz side. In fact, that was impossible because it required Georgian permission as well. He did not know if that was true or not, but clearly, that would be illegitimate if it was so.
Asked how the Georgian proposal to Abkhazia compared to Serbia’s final proposal to Kosovo, he said he could not say anything about that because “we don’t see any connection and we don’t track any analogies”. It was the offer of the Georgian President to the separatist regime, based solely on Georgia’s national security interests and taking into account the security interest of the Abkhaz nation, and Abkhaz ethnic group. “So we don’t see any comparisons”.
To further questions about air travel and airports, he said there were no active airports; all had been closed in 1993 by presidential decree. However, as part of the new plan, Georgia was offering to open up an airport, thereby opening up the Abkhaz economy to foreign trade. UNOMIG was using helicopters and the existing airport.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had talked about some provocative flights over so-called Abkhazia airspace, another correspondent noted, asking for Mr. Alasania’s response.
Mr. Alasania said that it was Georgian airspace, adding “clearly, we are concerned whenever there are intrusions from the Russian Federation airspace”. Last year, he recalled, there had been incidents involving Russian air assaults on Georgian sovereign territory -– bombings, then intrusions of the Russian military –- “so clearly, we are very concerned about that and we are encouraging UNOMIG to expand its observation power on the ground to detect those kind of violations”.
He said, in response to another question, that the comprehensive review by the Secretariat was under way and should be completed in June. That impartial observation should lead to more constructive suggestions about how to change the existing format into a more productive and effective one. The Georgian President’s proposal had been timely and, hopefully, the Russian Federation would be part of the solution.
As for how the message was being spread through Abkhazia, given the State-controlled media, he said that word of mouth was one way, and noted that there were some radio transmissions and some television stations transmitting to parts of Abkhazia. Not only was media access controlled, but one member of the Security Council had blocked acknowledgement in the resolution of Georgia’s peace initiative. So, there were a lot of obstacles, but there would be more success once the bilateral track was expanded with the Abkhaz side.
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