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Georgia: Minister Seeks Greater EU, OSCE Role In Caucasus Conflicts

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Georgi Khaindrava, visiting EU headquarters in Brussels, said Tbilisi is seeking greater OSCE and European Union involvement in managing the country's conflicts and its relations with Russia. Speaking to a small group of reporters, Khaindrava also said Tbilisi believes that recent Russian threats to attack suspected terrorist facilities outside its territory are directed against Georgia. And he warned that rising tensions in the North Caucasus are an equal danger to Russia and its South Caucasus neighbors.

Brussels, 15 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia would like the European Union and international community to step up their involvement in the country's "frozen conflicts."

Georgi Khaindrava, Georgia's minister for conflict resolution, makes no secret that a greater EU and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) presence in Georgia should come at the expense of Russian involvement.

"We are seeking the internationalization of, shall we say, conflict-affected relationships. We think that the presence of European observers, the large-scale involvement of the European community in managing conflicts can only help and play a positive roll in this context. We also believe that Russia is also facing a great many problems and to place peace-making responsibilities solely on Russian shoulders would not be fair, either," Khaindrava said.

Georgian officials say there is a widespread unwillingness among EU member states to assume any direct responsibility in the South Caucasus's "frozen conflicts." EU officials have called it a major effort to get the bloc to send a limited, institution-building mission to Georgia last July.

Khaindrava chose his words carefully when speaking of what Georgia wants the EU to do. He said the issue came up in talks yesterday with Javier Solana, the EU's security and foreign policy chief. Khaindrava said that although EU assistance would help greatly and Georgia "would not reject" EU mediation, Georgia made no explicit requests as such.

Khaindrava said Tbilisi is first looking to the OSCE to boost its role in Georgia.
Khaindrava said Georgia realizes it is not capable of solving such problems by force, adding that this would have "catastrophic" effects.

He also expressed a preference for the involvement of former communist-bloc countries -- some of which, however, are today members of the EU. "We think that the rest of Europe must also take part in this [besides Russia], first of all post-Soviet states such as Ukraine, or, shall we say, the Baltic states, or countries of the [former] socialist bloc, because they, unlike anyone else, understand the problems facing us," Khaindrava said.

He said OSCE monitors are above all needed at sections of the Georgian-Russian border that are currently outside of Tbilisi's control.

Khaindrava said tensions between the central government in Tbilisi and the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are "permanently on the agenda" at meetings with EU officials. He said Georgia realizes it is not capable of solving such problems by force, adding that this would have "catastrophic" effects.

Officials in Brussels have indicated that a major use of force by the Georgian government against separatists could severely undermine current EU goodwill toward the country.

Speaking of Georgian-Russian relations, Khaindrava said Tbilisi was "alarmed" by a recent Russian statement -- made in the wake of the Beslan hostage siege -- warning that Moscow will not baulk away from striking terrorist facilities outside its borders. "We would say that the [Russian] chief of staff, General [Yurii] Baluevskii, was making a hint directed particularly at Georgia," he said.

Such threats, Khaindrava said, are "absolutely unacceptable." He said the Georgian government does not think Russia was referring to the Pankisi Gorge, which borders Chechnya. Pankisi, he said, harbors no terrorists and is today open to all visitors.

Rather, the real target of the threat is thought to be the Kodori Gorge. The gorge is part of rebel-controlled Abkhazia, but according to Khaindrava, is under the control of Georgian forces.

Khaindrava said Georgia agrees with comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of the events in Beslan suggesting that the situation in the entire North Caucasus is extremely volatile and dangerous. The North Caucasus is home to stockpiles of weapons as well as armed gangs that move around unimpeded. The Georgian official said such loose security helps fuel separatism in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and adds to Russia's vulnerability to terrorism.

"Certainly, tendencies of this type have an effect on the entire situation in the Caucasus. As a result of this, we have the developments that have taken place in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan," he said.

Khaindrava said the Beslan tragedy, in which more than 300 hostages, many of them children, were killed, showed that terrorists can move freely around Russia. He advises Russia to deal with terrorists on its own territory rather than threaten its neighbors with strikes.

Khaindrava says the Georgian government has information that the hostage takers used South Ossetian license plates traveling from Ingushetia to Beslan in North Ossetia. He said Georgia had informed Russia of suspicious movements of armed gangs in its own breakaway South Ossetia region.

Khaindrava said Russia's "enemy No. 1" -- Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev -- first took to the field in Abkhazia in the early 1990s, fighting Georgian forces with Russian consent.

Khaindrava said Georgia has repeatedly asked Russia to share information on suspected terrorist bases on Russian territory and offered to conduct joint operations. Georgia is also interested in setting up a joint antiterrorist center with Russia in Tbilisi. Despite the tensions, he said relations with Russia are "very important" to Georgia, as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashivili has repeatedly stated.

For full coverage on the recent wave of terror attacks in Russia, see RFE/RL's webpage on "Terror In Russia".

For the latest news on the tensions in South Ossetia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Ossetia and Georgia.