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Georgia: Premier Urges Greater UN Security Council Activity On Abkhazia

United Nations, 30 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania has urged the UN Security Council to direct new energy at trying to resolve the decade-old conflict with Abkhaz separatists.

Zhvania told the council yesterday that the new Georgian government is committed to a peaceful resolution. But he said Georgia feels stymied by Abkhaz actions blocking talks and efforts to return displaced persons to the province. "We welcome all attempts aimed at improving relations with the Abkhaz side but at the same time we cannot allow the separatists to continue to hold the peace process hostage," he said.

The prime minister said improvements in relations with Russia have helped ease tensions in the area. He called on Moscow to press its role as facilitator to end the stalemate over Abkhazia. "We still hope that with the increased and more persistent involvement of our Russian colleagues we will be able to begin meaningful deliberations on the political status of Abkhazia," he said.

Georgia has in the past complained that Russia was conferring de facto citizen status on Abkhaz residents by granting travel permits and opening up rail ties.
Russia is part of a group of key Security Council states involved in guiding the peace process. It voted along with fellow council members three years ago to approve a document stating that political talks must continue on the basis of Abkhazia remaining part of Georgia.

Separatist leaders have rejected this document and any talks based on it. Georgia has in the past complained that Russia was conferring de facto citizen status on Abkhaz residents by granting travel permits and opening up rail ties. But the post-Eduard Shevardnadze administration led by President Mikheil Saakashvili has sought to improve relations with Russia.

Security Council diplomats have previously said harsh Georgian statements against Russia were counterproductive in dealing with Abkhazia. They now welcome the new tone. During his UN visit today, Zurab repeatedly stressed that Georgia is now a responsible partner.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Zhvania said he told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today that Georgia is fostering better relations with Russia to help resolve the dispute. "Now we are much more optimistic that Russia's contributions in this peace solution can indeed be very important and the basis for this statement is really much warmer relations between our two countries and much stronger sense of confidence between us and the understanding that we share so many interests and so many concerns with Russia that it really brings us to cooperation rather than confrontation," he said.

Annan said earlier this week that peace efforts were moving "painfully slow" and faulted Abkhaz leaders for blocking the deployment of UN police officers to a border region.

In the absence of political talks, UN officials are focusing on improving security for returning displaced persons to the Gali region. They are also trying to improve economic ties between Georgian and the separatist province.

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