Jan 12, 2007

Abkhazia: “Spiral of Tension” Continues

A controversial visit by Georgia’s President to disputed territory has prompted EU officials to warn of excessive “politicisation” of the process to restore order.

Below is an article published by the ITAR-TASS News Agency;

TBILISI - Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili visited the Georgian-controlled upper part of the Kodori Gorge on Thursday [11 January 2007].

The local administration said that he attended a meeting Abkhazia’s government in exile that was transferred by his decision from Tbilisi to the Kodori Gorge in last year’s September.

“Current matters connected with the socio-economic rehabilitation of the gorge and the implementation of respective programmes were reviewed at the meeting,” the administration said.

Saakashvili’s trip to the Kodori Gorge in the capacity of the president is the second.

He first visited the “government in exile” shortly after it was based in the gorge.

An Itar-Tass correspondent in Abkhazia said that Saakashvili’s visit caused a new spiral of tension in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.

The president of the self-proclaimed republic, Sergei Bagapsh, then called a provocation Saakashvili’s declaring the renaming of the Kodori Gorge into “Upper Abkhazia”.

Bagapsh said that “another provocation of the Georgian side will have serious consequences for the negotiations and the relations between Abkhazia and Georgia”.

The European Union’s special representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, called on Georgian authorities “to be cautious with politicisation of order restoration in the Kodori Gorge”.

In October 2006, the monitoring of the Georgian-controlled part of the gorge resumed after a long interval revealed there the presence of Georgian policemen and an arms depot that contained 112 mm and 82 mm mortars, an anti-aircraft gun, ammunition and a portable anti-aircraft system.

The Georgian side then said that the “depot belonged to the Georgian president’s former representative Emzar Kvitsiani, and all these arms were seized from him”.

The UN Security Council expressed concern over the situation in the Kodori Gorge and called on Georgia to withdraw its troops from the upper Kodori and to refrain from bellicose rhetoric and provoking actions.

According to the Moscow ceasefire agreement, the Kodori Gorge is a demilitarised area, where neither Abkhazian nor Georgian troops must be present.

The Kodori Gorge is Abkhazia’s territory, but after the end of the Georgian-Abkhazian war in 1993, its upper part remained under the control of Georgian authorities.

In July 2006, Georgia moved military units to the Kodori Gorge with a pretext of a special police operation.

This put the Georgian-Abkhazian settlement talks in a deadlock.