Abkhazia: Elections Seen Reviving UN-Led Peace Talks
The clear outcome of the Jan. 12 elections after a disputed earlier vote "gives us hope that the peace process can resume," said Heidi Tagliavini, who heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the former Soviet Republic.
"My mission is concerned not to have a protracted absence of one side from the peace process as this always has an impact on stability on the ground," she told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on the situation in Georgia.
The Abkhaz side unilaterally dropped out of peace negotiations in mid-2004 over a maritime incident, but it has now agreed to resume participation, Tagliavini said.
Abkhazia won effective independence from Georgia in a 1992-93 war, but its economy is still devastated. Once-grand buildings in the capital Sukhumi are pitted with bullet holes and stand open to the sky.
Russia props up the economy by paying pensions, giving out passports and allowing cross-border traffic.
Georgia, home to 200,000 ethnic Georgian refugees who fled the war, has pledged to regain control over Abkhazia, as well as over another rebel region, South Ossetia.
But Sergei Bagapsh, winner of this month's elections, said he would not compromise with Georgia to improve frozen relations with Tbilisi.
"Foreign policy will only be directed towards integration with Russia," he told a news conference shortly after the results declared him the new president.
Russia, however, has called instead for talks between Abkhazia and Tbilisi now that the political turmoil following the disputed vote in October has been put to rest.
Tagliavini said it was important to seize the momentum from the elections and resume work on all the U.N. initiatives stalled in recent months.
"But we need also to be cautious," she warned. "There has been more than three months of internal political crisis that has strained the patience of the people. It has brought a lot of tension to the area and the people need to digest what they have just gone through."