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Georgia: EU's Solana Discusses Adjara With Georgian Foreign Minister

Brussels, 11 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili-Kashia today told EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that the situation in the country's restive Adjara region has returned to normal.

According to an EU official present at the Brussels meeting, Zurabishvili-Kashia was keen to stress what she called the "democratic maturity" of the Adjaran population.

The Autonomous Republic of Adjara was returned to Georgian control last week after mass protests forced its authoritarian leader, Aslan Abashidze, to flee to Moscow.

The Georgian minister said the quick and peaceful resolution of the crisis had "surprised" the authorities in Tbilisi. Zurabishvili-Kashia noted the role played in the transfer of power by the local population and said it should be acknowledged by the international community.

Georgia's foreign minister praised the "constructive" role played by the Russian government in defusing the standoff.
Zurabishvili-Kashia stressed that such "democratic maturity" is all the more surprising given the virtual isolation of the region from the outside world during the past 10 years, as well as the limits put on democratic and political freedoms by the previous Adjaran administration.

Zurabishvili-Kashia praised the "constructive" role played by the Russian government in defusing the standoff between the central government in Tbilisi and Abashidze in Batumi.

Zurabishvili-Kashia reportedly told Solana that she hopes Russia's conduct may lead to a "new era" in relations between Russia and Georgia, as well between Russia and the entire region. Zurabishvili-Kashia was quoted by the EU official as saying this represents an "historic opportunity" for Moscow to rethink its role in the region.

She said the Adjaran example could be put into practice in other troubled Georgian provinces.

Solana informed Zurabishvili-Kashia of an EU fact-finding mission to Georgia, which will embark next week to study ways the bloc can assist the country in consolidating its law-enforcement structures.

The EU is keen to move beyond limiting itself to financial assistance to Georgia via its TACIS aid program. He said practical work to help Georgia come closer to EU standards of the rule of law would be a good opportunity for the bloc to increase its visibility among the local population.

Another EU official told RFE/RL today that the European Commission will tomorrow make a recommendation to the bloc's member states to include Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the bloc's New Neighborhood program. The program offers aid and progressive increases in cooperation that could eventually lead to complete integration in all fields, except for political decision making.

All three countries were left out of the project at its inception last June. However, Georgia's so-called Rose Revolution in November forced the EU to rethink its initial decision.