In his first address to the UN General Assembly, President Mikheil Saakashvili spoke highly Georgia's democratic transformation since the "Rose Revolution" 10 months ago. But he said that transition remains threatened by the unresolved status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He described them as "black holes" of lawlessness which can serve as sanctuaries for terrorists.
Saakashvili said he was determined to solve the conflicts without violence. "Here I want to state in the clearest of terms, Georgia is fully committed to solving these conflicts through solely peaceful means. Georgia will not and cannot use violence to solve these conflicts because no democracy can go to war against its own people," he said.
Last month, violence erupted between Georgian and South Ossetian forces in what separatist leaders say was an effort to retake the region by force. The Georgian government had accused South Ossetia of trying to cleanse the region of remaining Georgians.
Saakashvili proposed speeding up the resolution of the two conflicts by following a new "stage-by-stage settlement plan." He called for greatly expanding existing contacts between peoples in the affected regions, including new ties between journalists, students, athletes, and nongovernmental organizations.
He said the central government can help build confidence by pursuing joint economic projects with the regions. In return, he said, the regions should guarantee the rights of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons to return to their homes.
The president also repeated Tbilisi's pledge for what he called the "fullest and broadest forms of autonomy" to the two entities. "[It would be an autonomy] that protects language and culture, guarantees self-governance, fiscal control and meaningful representation and power-sharing at national government level and, most importantly, an autonomy that empowers average people so that isolated elites no longer act as sole decision-makers over their peoples' future," Saakashvili said.
Key to resolving the conflicts is Russia, which continues to support the two separatist regions. The Georgian government this year has improved bilateral ties with Russia, which helped Tbilisi reassert control over the autonomous republic of Adjara. But Saakashvili again raised Georgia's concern about Russian ties to Abkhazia and South Ossetia yesterday, as well as its maintenance of military bases in Georgia.
Saakashvili said he's convinced the two countries can work together. He proposed creating a joint antiterrorism center and expanding joint border patrols. "All forms of violent separatists -- be they in [South Ossetia's capital] Tskhinvali, [Chechnya's capital] Grozny, or [Abkhazia's capital] Sukhumi -- represent destabilizing factors for Russia and Georgia alike. By working together more robustly, I'm confident we can make great progress in reducing this shared risk," he said.
Separately, the Georgian president said his country was committing a force to protect UN personnel in Iraq. Such a deployment would make Georgia the first country to commit to the special UN force. "In offering our services to the UN mission, we are hopeful that our presence will foster lasting stability, prosperity and freedom for the Iraqi people, a freedom worthy of all those who live in the region at large," he said.
Georgia's UN mission in New York told RFE/RL that the government planned to raise its current contribution of 159 forces in Iraq to 300 by next month. It was not immediately clear how many of these forces would be part of a UN protection force.