Strasbourg, 28 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia took a big step toward full membership in the Council of Europe yesterday (Jan. 27) when the organization's Parliamentary Assembly formally approved its application.
But the Assembly, meeting in Strasbourg, made its approval contingent on Georgia fulfilling within the next two years a number of political, human- and minority-rights conditions.
The conditions include enacting a legal framework for guaranteeing autonomy in the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In Abkhazia, where thousands have been killed since the collapse of the Soviet Union eight years ago, Georgia must seek to end all fighting by the territory's para-military groups.
The Assembly also conditioned its approval on Georgia ratifying European conventions on human rights, torture and the protection of minorities.
The Council of Europe was founded 50 years ago to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law on the continent.
Council officials told our correspondent that Georgia could join the organization within the next six months, although its membership will be reviewed in two years to verify that it has fulfilled the Assembly's conditions.
The final decision on Georgia's membership will be taken by the Council's Committee of Ministers, which meets next week but is unlikely then to take action on Georgia.
Georgia has been associated with the Council of Europe since 1996, as have Armenia and Azerbaijan. If admitted, Georgia would become the 41st member of the Strasbourg-based Council and its 17th member from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania welcomed yesterday�s action by the Council. In a phone interview, he told our correspondent that after centuries of absence, Georgia was returning to what he described as our European family, "to our harbor." Zhvania called Georgia an inseparable part of the European community.