Abkhazia: German Proposal for End of Conflict
Below is an article published by International Herald Tribune :
An international proposal for resolving the conflict between Georgia and […] Abkhazia received mixed reviews Thursday [17 July 2008] from the region's foreign minister, who said any deal would require a Georgian troop withdrawal.
Tensions have increased sharply between Georgia and Abkhazia, which is not internationally recognized but seeks either independence or absorption into Russia.
The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was in Georgia's capital Thursday [17 July 2008] and planned to visit Abkhazia on Friday to discuss the proposal devised by the members of the U.N. Secretary-General's Group of Friends of Georgia - Germany, Russia, the United States, Britain and France.
In Tbilisi, Steinmeier called for “the peaceful settlement of the conflict on the principle of Georgia's territorial unity,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
That implied the possibility of offering Abkhazia wide autonomy, instead of outright independence - an idea Abkhazia has rejected.
Abkhazia's foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, suggested Thursday [17 July 2008] that parts of the U.N.-backed three-step proposal could be acceptable.
For the first step on security guarantees, he said, Georgia would need to withdraw its troops from the disputed Kodori Gorge. The sector has been under Georgian control for two years [since 2006], and Abkhazian officials accuse Georgia of planning to launch a military operation from there to retake the rest of Abkhazia.
He said the second-step provision on economic development would be acceptable if Abkhazia could work on projects with EU countries but not with Georgia.
He also said Abkhazia could allow the return of some 25,000 ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during a separatist war in the 1990s, but only if they moved to the region's far south.
Shamba indicated there was no room for compromise on the plan's third and most difficult step determining Abkhazia's final status.
“We have said more than once that the status of our republic cannot be a subject for discussion, and we don't intend to discuss it with anyone,” he said.
On Friday [18 July 2008], Steinmeier also plans to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Lavrov said Thursday [17 July 2008] that a top priority should be Georgia and Abkhazia signing a nonaggression pact, according to RIA-Novosti news agency.
Russia - which maintains close ties with Abkhazia - has thousands of troops in the region in a peacekeeping mission, but Georgia alleges the troops essentially aid the separatists. Russia boosted its peacekeeping contingent earlier this year amid claims by Russia and Abkhazia that Georgia was preparing an offensive.
An unmanned Georgian surveillance plane was shot down over Abkhazia in April . U.N. investigators said the drone was shot down by a Russian warplane violating Georgia's airspace, but Russia denied the claims.