UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed new concern about the unraveling of the Georgian-Abkhaz peace process. He says efforts at bringing the two sides to the negotiating table are stalled for various reasons while the border region separating Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia remains volatile. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 1 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The latest United Nations report on the situation in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia raises new concerns about the fragility of the peace process.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in the report, released yesterday (30 April), that tensions remain high in the border zone monitored by UN military observers and peacekeepers from the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The report says 12 deaths were recorded in the region in the past three months, as well as kidnappings, mine explosions, and numerous shooting incidents.
Annan says at the same time the lack of progress on the basic issue of the future political status of Abkhazia within Georgia threatens the entire peace process. But his spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, quoted Annan yesterday as saying he still believed there are opportunities to revive the peace process.
"The secretary-general says that the parties meeting on confidence-building measures in Yalta marked a step forward and appealed to all concerned to clear the way for the start of meaningful talks to define the status of Abkhazia within the state of Georgia."
At a meeting in Yalta in March, the two sides reaffirmed pledges that they would not resort to force to solve their dispute. They also restated their commitment to creating conditions for the safe return of refugees and displaced persons.
An estimated 200,000 people fled the region after fighting broke out in the early 1990s and Annan's report yesterday described the humanitarian situation as grave.
Aside from the Yalta talks, Annan said there are a many areas of concern, especially in the border zone between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. He said criminal activity in the area remains high and the law-enforcement systems of the Abkhaz and Georgian sides are unable to cope with it.
Annan also referred to a series of incidents in early April which caused an escalation in tensions. The incidents were set off by an ambush north of the town of Gali in which unknown gunmen killed two Abkhaz civilians. Abkhaz security forces retaliated against a group of armed Georgians in a nearby village and killings and abductions on both sides followed.
Annan's special envoy, Dieter Boden, sought to defuse the situation by holding a meeting 16 April. The two sides signed a protocol agreeing to verify the physical condition of those held, if possible through the involvement of international organizations.
Boden traveled to New York last week to brief the UN Security Council on the situation. He also discussed a draft paper which is supposed to serve as the basis for negotiations between Georgia and Abkhazia.
But Russian objections to the language in the draft have delayed the Security Council from moving ahead on the document. Russia is one of the key members of a body known as the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General for Georgia, which has a formal role in the UN-sponsored peace process.
The spokesman for Russia's mission to the United Nations, Kirill Speranskiy, told our correspondent yesterday that Russia continues to support the UN position requiring Abkhazia to remain part of Georgia. But he said Russia is proposing a change in the wording on the draft paper on the separation of powers that does not refer to Abkhazia within Georgia. Speranskiy said it is trying to ensure the language in the document is acceptable to both sides.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was quoted during the weekend expressing frustration at Russia's actions in the Security Council. Abkhaz leaders have repeatedly rejected discussion based on a draft paper on the question of its political status.
Annan's report on 30 April urged all sides involved to move beyond the current standstill. He also criticized Abkhazia's stance as "short-sighted" and "counter-productive."
(The full report of the UN secretary-general can be found at: http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2001/sgrep01.htm)