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UN: Security Council To Extend Georgia Mission, Amid Complaints From Tbilisi

The UN Security Council tomorrow is set to renew the small UN monitoring mission of the Georgia-Abkhaz cease-fire. But Georgian officials have complained that the draft resolution renewing the mission reflects little of its concerns over delays in the peace process and Russian support for Abkhaz separatists. RFE/RL talked to diplomats about possibilities for advancing the process.

United Nations, 29 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council this week held its first meeting on the Georgia-Abkhaz conflict since the leadership change in Tbilisi, but there appeared to be little new in the approach to solving the 11-year-old conflict.

A draft resolution on renewing the UN monitoring mission -- to be voted on tomorrow -- continues to gently rebuke the separatist Abkhaz leadership for refusing to hold political talks.

Georgia's minister for special affairs, Malkhaz Kakabadze, used the closed-door meeting of the Security Council on 27 January to renew accusations against Russia of encouraging Abkhaz separatism. And Security Council members and Georgian officials pointed to another high-level meeting in Geneva next month as an opportunity to give momentum to the process.

But there was widespread hope among council members that changes in the Georgian political landscape would inject life into the conflict resolution efforts. Romanian Ambassador Mihnea Motoc, who takes part in a special Security Council group on the Abkhaz conflict, told RFE/RL that he shares this view. "The program of reforms, both political and economic and social that the new leadership in Tbilisi announced, is complex but is also conducive for the hope that it will impact positively also on the peace process and dialogue between parties," he said.

The Georgian special affairs minister, Kakabadze, read a statement to the Security Council stressing Georgia's commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Abkhaz conflict. He said the country's new leaders have decided to remove from government any persons who do not support this policy. But Kakabadze also expressed frustration that the council has not forced Abkhaz leaders to accept the document setting out the basis for political talks. The paper calls for Abkhazia to remain part of Georgia.

The council has repeatedly endorsed this document during the past two years. But in the absence of talks, it has stressed a package of practical measures, such as improving conditions for the return of thousands of displaced Georgians to the Gali region in Abkhazia.

Kakabadze also renewed accusations that Russia is trying to annex Abkhazia. He cited the granting of Russian citizenship to Abkhaz residents, the opening of a rail line between Russia and Abkhazia, and the maintenance of a military base in Gudauta. The minister called for "turning a new page" in relations with Russia. Georgia's UN ambassador, Revaz Adamia, later told reporters that Georgia is seeking gestures from Russia. "We will welcome Russia to keep its interests -- its legitimate interests -- down in Georgia and in the South Caucasus, but it should not be done via military means, just keeping the Russian military bases or having some double-standards in the conflict resolution process," he said.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss a range of Georgian issues, including the closing of bases. Russia also maintains bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki. Ivanov said Russia is willing to discuss the bases with Georgian officials.

But Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, told the Associated Press this week that Georgia must take "confidence-building" measures before any more discussions on the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Kakabadze was also in charge of dealing with Abkhazia in the government of former President Eduard Shevardnadze, but some Security Council members expected his tone toward Russia to be softer after the change in government.

A Western diplomat who belongs to a Security Council group known as the Friends of the Secretary-General for Georgia told RFE/RL that Georgian officials raised valid points about Russian interference. But he said it is counterproductive to antagonize Russian officials in a Security Council meeting. "You won't find a resolution to the Abkhaz conflict when you have bad relations with Russia."

The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations recently issued a report outlining a series of measures Georgia should take to improve the situation in Abkhazia and elsewhere.

The report's author, David Phillips, told RFE/RL the process needs to start with a more activist Foreign Ministry in Tbilisi. "There hasn't been one meaningful agreement between the Abkhaz and Georgian side for the past three years," he said. "It's time that Georgians show more vigorous leadership and that the UN encourage them and support them to do so. I think the U.S. has an important role to play here, particularly given its more active participation in Georgian affairs overall."

Phillips, a former senior U.S. diplomat, suggested Georgia engage the permanent five members of the Security Council to gain support for an Abkhaz solution. He also called for broadening the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia to include non-Russians. "The new Georgian foreign minister, Tedo Japaridze, needs to make internationalizing the peace operation one of his top priorities. That means working the halls at the UN, sitting down with the [five permanent members of the Security Council] and trying to hammer out a deal. There's no reason for there to be Russian troops on Georgian soil, and the peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, which is now all Russian, is more of an obstruction than a help," he said.

High-level envoys from the "Friends" group are to hold their third meeting in Geneva on 17 and 18 February. The members of the group include Russia, the United States, France, Germany, and Britain. Romania participates in talks based in New York.

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