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Georgia: Sides In Frozen Conflicts 'Need To Talk'

Peter Semneby on a visit to Tbilisi in January (RFE/RL) TBILISI, July 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's special representative to the South Caucasus, Ambassador Peter Semneby, was in Georgia on July 26-28 to wrap up some discussions with the Georgian government on the EU's contribution to the confidence-building and the peace processes in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

He also took the opportunity to meet newly appointed State Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze. Semneby further noted the intention of the Georgian government to invite external partners to take part in the work of a new commission on South Ossetia. RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili met with Semneby afterward and asked a few questions.

Peter Semneby: I have been concerned and I know there are others also that are concerned about the stalemate that we have seen in the conflict-resolution process and the dialogue between the parties in Abkhazia. The fact that there is very little going on in terms of actual contacts between the parties is the source of great concern.

There are some incidents in the course of the last few months that have also caused attention and concern. The incident that took place in the Kodori Valley on March 11 is a source of great concern. Whatever the exact circumstances were, it was a serious and quite dangerous attack that could have had very far-reaching consequences. And we very much understand and support the profound concerns and disquiet of the Georgian government regarding this incident.

RFE/RL: You mentioned the lack of direct dialogue between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides. There is a lack of direct dialogue between Georgia and South Ossetia, too. You met with government representatives, also representatives of the parliamentary majority. How do they explain the reasons for that?

Semneby: It is a fact that the existing body that we have for contacts between the parties, the Joint Control Commission [JCC], has not been working well lately. There may be several reasons for this. If you are asking in terms of the Georgians' explanations, there is the dissatisfaction on the Georgian side that it's structured in such a way that it may not bring the issues forward in a productive way. The disagreements over the course of the last few months also about the two parallel authorities that we have in Tskhinvali and Kurta [the rival separatist and pro-Georgian administrations] have also created deadlock in the JCC.

Against that background I have some expectation that we are now able to move beyond this. There is a meeting of the Joint Control Commission planned for the next few weeks. There have been statements from the Russian Federation of a more flexible view in terms of the composition of the Georgian delegation and that's a result.

I think there is a desire also on the part of the Georgian side in good faith to use this format for what it can achieve. It will not be able to resolve the big issues but I believe we are at the situation at least where the limited potential that this format gives will be used also by the Georgian side.

In terms of the larger issues, the longer term that will be a later issue, I hope that the initiative on the Georgian side to launch [this] commission, to involve all parties in an inclusive dialogue will also yield results and that this work will also be carried out in good faith and that all measures, all steps will be taken on the part of the Georgian government to make sure that this dialogue, this consultation process is a truly inclusive one. It is a big step. It's an important step that the strategic direction here is a restoration of the autonomy of South Ossetia, since the origin of the conflict 15 or 16 years ago was precisely the abolishment of the autonomy of South Ossetia.

RFE/RL: Did Georgian government give the EU any deadline to answer their request about participation in the commission on the status of South Ossetia?

The request was sent very recently, and by the time I left Brussels I had not received it, the formal request. So, we will of course look at the request. We may have some follow-up questions to the Georgian side and I am not in a position to comment on any modalities.

RFE/RL: When Mr. Bakradze was appointed to the post of state minister, almost the only point he made in the beginning was that he would work to give Europe a more active role in resolving the conflicts in Georgia. What did he mean? What did he tell you, if it's not a secret, at the meeting?

Semneby: Well, Mr. Bakradze has a very strong vision of Georgia as a European country, as a country with a very strong European vocation and link with the European Union. And against that background, with that relationship being perhaps the central one in Georgia's foreign policy it's also natural to look towards Europe for, in the short-term, facilitation of various kinds (and I mentioned, we have discussed that) but also as a source of inspiration for finding models -- historical and current -- for how to deal with similar situations.

RFE/RL: You must have read the latest report by the UN on the bombing in the Kodori Valley. The investigation is not completed, that was written at the end of the report. But what was your impression about the work that was done to prepare that report?

I think it was painstaking work that was done. It doesn't give the full picture of what actually happened, but it gives a clear enough picture to make the conclusion that this was a very dangerous incident and very dangerous attack that took place.

Let's go back to the issue of a direct dialogue, let's go back to the conflicts again. Two years ago, the Georgian-Abkhaz Coordinating Council was restored, but for a very short time. Do you see any perspective for restoring the process again, because I remember some working groups were planned to meet and work on certain issues?

There are several levels where I hope the dialogue should be restored. The Coordination Council is one, the dialogue at the political level between Sukhumi and Tbilisi is another one. It's a curse, I would say, in the cases like this. There are often conditions being presented for this dialogue to continue and to take place.

Our recommendation is, and very strong view (and I most recently communicated this when I was in Abkhazia few weeks ago), is that the dialogue itself -- the conduct of the dialogue itself should not be the subject of negotiations and conditions because then we will run into very complicated situation where it will be almost impossible to untie the knot and move forward. The parties need to talk.

Universal Principles?

Universal Principles?

President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)


Putin Calls For 'Universal Principles' To Settle Frozen Conflicts

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