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Georgia: Saakashvili Urges Security Council Pressure To End Abkhaz Conflict

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 27 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday appealed to the UN Security Council to use pressure to bring about a political solution to the conflict with the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Saakashvili told the Security Council during a visit to UN headquarters in New York that he is ready to guarantee the highest degree of autonomy to Abkhazia within Georgia. He mentioned the possibility of a federal state as one proposal.

"We are talking about a situation where just being ethnically Georgian automatically means being killed if you enter that territory and this is not a situation that can be tolerated for whatever diplomatic considerations in this respectable body."
But Saakashvili said the council must, if necessary, use pressure to bring Abkhaz separatist leaders to the negotiating table. "This conflict has gone on for too long,” Saakashvili said. “For too long we have sat around the table trading accusations and threats instead of sharing ideas and proposals that would lead to a lasting solution."

The Georgian president also urged the council to help end the Russian practice of granting citizenship to Abkhaz residents and permitting visa-free travel for them.

Saakashvili said he was encouraged by his meeting two weeks ago in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and believes a new chapter in Russian-Georgian relations is possible. But he said Putin faces challenges following a long period of mistrust between the two countries. "Mr. Putin will have to apply a new degree of political will and leadership towards resolution of the conflict and the creation of lasting peace and he expressed his strong desire to act in that direction," he said.

The Security Council, including Russia, has repeatedly expressed its support for Georgia's territorial integrity. It has passed numerous resolutions calling for political talks to proceed on the basis of Abkhazia remaining part of Georgia. But the council has given more support recently to confidence-building measures because of the Abkhaz refusal to consider talks.

Saakashvili said after 11 years of peace talks and ongoing problems faced by hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, it is time for new engagement by the council. "The Security Council must make it clear that those who are not on the side of peace will be held accountable," he said. "That they will [be placed under] sanctions, that visas will not be issued, that a criminal court will be awaiting [those] who perpetrate human rights [abuses], regardless of their ethnic origin. I am proud to stand before you today and tell you that the new government in Tbilisi led by myself and my team are ready to help [the perpetrators] be held accountable."

Saakashvili said Abkhazia had become a "desperate place," with a fraction of its former population and much lower living standards. "We are talking about a situation where just being ethnically Georgian automatically means being killed if you enter that territory and this is not a situation that can be tolerated for whatever diplomatic considerations in this respectable body," he said. "You know perfectly that it's exactly the situation, a classical situation of ethnic cleansing, a situation that is totally against every principle of humanity."

The Georgian president has been visiting the leaders of all Security Council states that belong to a group trying to facilitate a peace settlement. They include Putin, U.S. President George W. Bush, whom he visited at the White House yesterday, and French President Jacques Chirac, whom he will visit soon.
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