Dec 12, 2005

Abkhazia: Green Light for European Aid

A new aid program with European-backing is set to invest approximately EURO 4 million in the Abkhaz conflict zone over the next two years and EURO 25 million over the next eight years

A new aid program with European-backing is set to invest approximately EURO 4 million in the Abkhaz conflict zone over the next two years and EURO 25 million over the next eight years.

The agreement on the first stages of the program was reached this week in Sokhumi at the first meeting of the Steering Committee for the Rehabilitation Program in the Abkhaz conflict zone.

The top officials from the European Commission, who is financing the program, the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), as well as representatives from the Georgian government and the Group of Friends attended the meeting on December 6, 2005.

"Both the Georgian side as well as the Abkhaz welcomes very much this support from the European Union to better the economic conditions and social infrastructure in Abkhazia," the Head of the EC Delegation Ambassador Torben Holtze told the paper Thursday.

He and other participants hope the new program will directly benefit the area's population, build confidence and improve security conditions in the region.

The rehabilitation program is aimed at improving the living conditions of the population in the conflict zone and will focus on the restoration of basic services such as electricity, public health, water sanitation, waste-management, and agricultural development.

The Group of Friends, which consists of representatives of German, Russian, U.S., British and French diplomatic missions, will act as observers within the steering committee and will have the opportunity to render advice when decisions are being made.

German Ambassador to Georgia Uwe Schramm coordinates the Group of Friends and told the paper Thursday that the Rehabilitation Program is significant in part because it proves the international community is paying attention to people affected by the conflict.

"The average person living on both sides of the ceasefire line now feels that the international community and Europe is looking after them, and trying to do something for them," he said.

UNOMIG and UNDP are the main implementers of this two-phase program. Officials say that the Steering Committee has discussed the launch of the first phase which will take place by the end of the year and has 25 months to be implemented.
EURO 1.98 million has been allocated to finance the first phase of the program which includes rehabilitation efforts for electricity, public health and basic services along with local agricultural development in the Gali, Ochamchira and Tkvarcheli districts on the Abkhaz side and in the Zugdidi district on the Georgian side of the cease-fire line.

The EC will allocate another EURO 1.98 million for the second phase which is to be launched in early 2006 and will focus on education support; increasing the capacity of NGOs and local authorities; setting up an information sharing center and deploying UNOMIG civilian police on the Abkhazian side in Gali.

"But that does not mean we will stop there, as this is a long chain of rehabilitation programs," Holtze said explaining that EU has allocated a total of EUR 25 million over 8 years.

Commenting on the security conditions, Holtze said that some 4 years ago they were not good in Abkhazia and in Georgia in general, but have improved lately. "However there are still problems with criminals," he said, "There should be more cooperation between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides as well as with peacekeeping troops."

Holtze believes that the Rehabilitation Program can act as a kind of confidence building tool for Georgians and Abkhzians, because it will help the population to come out of a difficult situation.

However he thinks there is still a lot to be done in this regard which requires "really a lot of patience because there is still no trust between the two people. But if you are patient and continue confidence building, economic and social development will follow. Maybe one day you will achieve a settlement which will be acceptable for both parties," Holtze stated.
German Ambassador Schramm said that together with the progressive work that will be done by the EC Rehabilitation Program, the fact that the two sides are agreed on the basis of a declaration of security guarantees was the most successful outcome of the steering committee meeting.

The declaration has two basic elements; one will refer to the renunciation of making false statements in the context of conflict settlement and the other to the return of refugees and IDPs to the Abkhazian region.

Source: The Messenger