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Georgia: Trust An Issue At South Ossetia Donors Conference

  • Ahto Lobjakas

http://gdb.rferl.org/771bd03c-231c-4719-8785-75db9119752d_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/771bd03c-231c-4719-8785-75db9119752d_mw800_mh600.jpg (RFE/RL) BRUSSELS, June 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A first-ever international donors conference for South Ossetia took place in Brussels today under the auspices of the current Belgian presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The event, which yielded just over the expected 10 million euros ($12.6 million), underscored once again the deep divisions between Georgia and its breakaway South Ossetian region.

Building Confidence And Trust

The 10 million euros is a relatively small amount, considering the needs of South Ossetia's devastated economy. But more important than the money was the hope that the funds will go toward projects that will help build up confidence and trust between the two sides.
"The rehabilitation of infrastructure alone will not suffice to relaunch
the economy. For that, measures are needed to attract investors who
will create economic activity and jobs. To attract investors, it is
necessary to create a climate of stability in the entire region." -- EU official


Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the current OSCE chairman in office, said he saw the donors conference as a step on the road toward a final settlement of the conflict that flared up more than 13 years ago.

"It is my sincere hope that the meeting of today and the financial support that we hope to gather for the package of proposals will help to bring confidence between the parties, and will bring us closer to a settlement of the conflict in the Georgian-Ossetian zone to the benefit of the people and the stability of the region," De Gucht said.

The money donated today by a number of OSCE member states is intended to go toward rebuilding essential infrastructure in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone and adjacent areas. The projects involve repairing distribution networks for drinking water; improving the region's access to electricity and gas supplies; repairing and building schools, orphanages, hospitals, and roads; and funding agricultural development.

OSCE officials said projects will ideally involve both communities and contribute to raising living standards. OSCE pledges totalled 7.8 million euros, with Russia promising another 3 million for "bilateral" projects.

Looking ahead, De Gucht said he hopes the projects will create a "positive dynamic" that will help political leaders to advance toward a settlement.

Georgia Offers To Share Growth...

Also present was Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli. He promised to "build bridges" with South Ossetia and work constructively to resolve the conflict.

"It is in the spirit of reconciliation, reconstruction, and new beginnings that I'm pleased to pledge my support and the support of my government for a lasting and peaceful settlement of this conflict -- one that respects the dignity, the culture, and the unique attributes and needs of all," he said.

Noghaideli said Georgia will not deviate from seeking a peaceful settlement, and called for a full demilitarization of the region, saying economic rehabilitation was not possible without it.

Noghaideli said Georgia would match "euro for euro" all pledges made at today's conference. He also invited South Ossetia to share in the fruits of Georgia's recent "double-digit economic growth."

...But Ossetians Prefer Russia

The South Ossetian representatives, however, said they were not convinced of Georgia's peaceful intentions. Prime Minister Yury Morozov openly rebuffed Noghaideli's invitation to share Georgia's economic growth, saying South Ossetia's future lies with Russia.

Russian peacekeepers continue to monitor the border between Georgia and South Ossetia (AFP)

"We are indeed prepared to partake of prosperity, but not Georgia's -- the Russian Federation's," he said. "That because we have had no ties to Georgia, have none [now], and will not have any [in the future.]"

Morozov accused Georgia of conducting an "economic blockade" against his region for more than two years.

South Ossetian and Russian representatives today also accused Georgia of failing to honor an agreement signed with Russia in December 2000 on South Ossetian economic rehabilitation and the return of refugees.

Russia's representative at the Joint Control Commission for the conflict, Yury Popov , said, however, that the June 13 meeting in St. Petersburg between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Mikheil Saakashvili could contribute to resolving the conflict.

No Growth Without Peace

It was left to Hugues Mingarelli, a senior official at the region's greatest outside donor, the European Commission, to point out that no amount of economic rehabilitation will compensate for the absence of a comprehensive peace deal.

"We are convinced that the rehabilitation of physical infrastructure in the [conflict] zone is a precondition of economic rehabilitation in the region," Mingarelli said. "But at the same time, there must be no illusions -- the rehabilitation of infrastructure alone will not suffice to relaunch the economy. For that, measures are needed to attract investors who will create economic activity and jobs. To attract investors, it is necessary to create a climate of stability in the entire region."

Mingarelli said the EU urges all parties to "redouble their efforts" to find a political and peaceful settlement to the South Ossetian conflict.
Universal Principles?

President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)


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