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Georgia: Fatal Auto Accident May Affect Diplomat's Status

Washington, 7 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Despite expressions of profound regrets from Georgia, the United States made it clear Monday that it considers the death of a young woman in a traffic accident in Washington allegedly caused by a Georgian diplomat to be a "crime" as well as a "terrible tragedy."

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns says the department will know sometime today whether the municipal authorities in the U.S. capitol city will pursue criminal charges against the diplomat, Gueorgui Makharadze.

If the authorities do press charges against the diplomat, the United States may ask the Georgian government to lift his diplomatic immunity. That would enable the city to prosecute Makharadze. Diplomatic immunity is guaranteed by an international treaty. It protects diplomats and members of their immediate families from prosecution for violations of local and national laws.

Makharadze is the economics and commercial minister at his country's embassy in Washington. He is described as the second ranking Georgian diplomat in the United States.

The Washington police say he started a chain reaction car accident early Saturday that resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl from a nearby Washington suburb. Police allege that the diplomat had been drinking and was driving too fast.

Makharadze was injured in the accident and hospitalized. He has said he is shocked and deeply saddened by the death of the girl. The Georgian government also expressed condolences to the victim's family and profound regrets over the accident.

Burns said the United States has told the Georgian government that it is strongly concerned about the incident. However, he says the State Department will take no action until it hears what the local authorities in Washington plan to do.

Georgia would have to agree to lift the diplomat's immunity before he could be charged.

This was the second incident involving diplomats from former Soviet republics and local law enforcement in the United States in a week.

On December 29, a Russian and a Belarusian diplomat accredited to the United Nations Mission in New York were briefly detained by New York City Police. The police say the diplomats were drunk and attacked officers who were writing tickets for illegally parked cars. Russia has demanded an apology, saying diplomat Boris Obnossov was brutally beaten by policemen.

The mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, is demanding that Obnossov and Yuri Orange of the Belarus mission, be sent home.

Burns said the United States considers the New York incident to be very serious as well. He says the State Department is still waiting for a final report from New York authorities before deciding what to do.

The spokesman said the United States expects all diplomats working in the United States to obey local and national laws. He says there cannot be two sets of laws, one for diplomats and one for everyone else. Burns says U.S. diplomats are held to the same standard when they are posted to foreign countries.

There are about 100,000 representatives of foreign countries in the United States but only about 18,000 qualify for full diplomatic immunity, the State Department says.