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Georgia: OSCE Representative Meets Abkhazia Separatists

Munich, 21 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A senior representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Wojciech Lamentowicz, visited Georgia and the breakaway province of Abkhazia this week to try to promote a dialogue between the two sides.

Lamentowicz is vice president of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly. He is an advisor to the Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski. An OSCE spokesman said today he had been in Georgia since last Saturday and held a brief meeting yesterday with representatives of the Abkhaz separatists. The spokesman said he had held "interesting" discussions and would present a report in the next few weeks.

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1993 after months of fighting in which Georgia was first victorious but was then defeated. Georgia said then that Russia might have intervened on the side of Abkhaz separatists. The Georgian forces were driven out of the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi in September 1993. Around 200,000 ethnic Georgians fled Abkhazia in the final weeks of the fighting. Few have returned despite a number of agreements allowing them to do so.

Georgia accuses the Abkhaz authorities of breaching and obstructing implementation of the agreements. Russia now has peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia.

Abkhazia's declaration of independence is not recognized by any state or international organizations, including the OSCE.

Lamentowicz went to Georgia last Saturday and is scheduled to leave tomorrow afternoon. A spokesman for the OSCE parliamentary assembly said he had conferred with President Eduard Shevardnadze and several members of the Government as well as representatives of the "Abkhazeti" faction in the Georgian parliament.

Yesterday afternoon he went to the Inghuri bridge on the border with Abkhazia and had a brief meeting in the city of Zugdidi with representatives of the Abkhazians. OSCE describes them as "the Zugdidi authorities". Lamentowicz also had a meeting with Georgian refugees in Zugdidi.

An Interfax report says the speaker of the Abkhaz parliament, Sokrat Dzhindzholia, gave Lamentowicz a statement declaring that talks with Georgia and the return of refugees should be suspended until Russia lifts economic sanctions against Abkhazia. The statement also demanded recognition of the right of Abkhaz citizens to move in and out of the area.

The Abkhaz parliament was elected in November last year. It is not recognized by any international body and is not a member of the OSCE parliamentary assembly. Georgia is a member of both OSCE and its parliamentary assembly.

An OSCE spokesman said Lamentowicz's mission arose from a visit to Georgia last September by the president of the OSCE parliamentary assembly, Javier Ruperez, of Spain. The speaker of the Georgian parliament asked him to send a rapporteur to promote a dialogue with Abkhazia. The proposal was also supported by President Shevardnadze.

The spokesman said it was possible Lamentowicz would make another visit to the region later in the year but there had been no decision on this.

OSCE has a mission in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and opened a sub-mission in Abkhazia at the end of last year. A spokesman said it is concerned mostly with human rights and is attached to the United Nations mission there. The U.N. maintains a small observer mission to monitor Russian peacekeepers in the region. The U.N. has also sponsored -- along with Russia -- talks on the Abkhazia dispute.

The last year OSCE summit in Lisbon, attended by the leaders of 54 countries, strongly supported Georgia in the dispute with the Abkhazia region. A statement in the final document expressed OSCE's "utmost support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally-recognized borders."

The summit statement condemned the "mass destruction and forcible expulsion of the predominantly Georgian population in Abkhazia, which it described as "ethnic cleansing." OSCE also condemned the obstructions placed in the way of the return of refugees and displaced persons and the elections held in Abkhazia last November. It said these actions undermined efforts to promote a political settlement.