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Georgia: Diplomats Seek Solutions To Abkhaz dispute

Prague, 9 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Vladislav Ardzinba, president of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, flew to Moscow yesterday for talks with Russian leaders aimed at finding a solution to the deadlocked negotiations on Abkhazia's future political status within Georgia. The previous day, Ardzinba had told the Abkhaz parliament in Sukhumi that he will never agree to discuss with the Georgian leadership the possibility of autonomy for Abkhazia within a unified Georgian state, but will continue to insist that Abkhazia be granted equal status. (From 1930 until 1992, Abkhazia had the status of an autonomous republic within Georgia.) On arrival in Moscow, Ardzinba again proposed as a model for a possible Georgian-Abkhaz peace treaty the agreement signed last month between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chechnya's President Aslan Maskhadov. Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze has, however, already rejected this option.

The need to arrive at a compromise solution assumed greater urgency following the adoption by the Georgian parliament on 30 May of a resolution setting conditions for renewing the mandate of the CIS peace-keeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. This mandate expires 31 July.

The Georgian parliament resolution makes its renewal contingent on implementation of a resolution passed by the CIS heads-of-state summit in March that provides for the deployment of the peace-keeping force throughout Abkhazia's southernmost Gali raion to expedite the repatriation of some 200,000 ethnic Georgians constrained to flee during the fighting in 1992-1993. The Abkhaz leadership has objected that the mandate of the peace-keeping forces cannot be amended without its permission. Ardzinba warned yesterday that withdrawal of the peace-keeping force could lead to the resumption of hostilities.

This pessimism and sense of urgency were shared by many of the 40 participants in a one-day seminar on Georgian-Abkhaz relations convened in Tbilisi on 6 June by the British non-government organization (NGO) "VERTIC," which has for several years been engaged in conflict mediation and confidence-building in Georgia. Participants at the seminar included Georgian politicians from across the political spectrum, spokesmen for the Georgian refugees, representatives of the United Nations and Organization for Ssecurity and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and foreign diplomats. The Russian ambassador to Georgia was invited but declined to attend.

"We are balancing on the brink of war" is how Zurab Erkvania, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Abkhaz Government-in-exile, described the present situation. U.N. and OSCE representatives equated the recent escalation of guerrilla warfare in Gali with an undeclared resumption of hostilities.

Georgian Deputy Parliament Chairman Vakhtang Kolbaia said that the Georgian leadership is ready to start negotiations with the Abkhaz leadership in Sukhumi at all levels and in any form. Kolbaia reiterated Georgia's offer to give Abkhazia the broadest possible autonomy within a unified Georgian state. Kolbaia also hinted that Georgia might accept the gradual repatriation of the ethnic Georgian refugees from Abkhazia now living in inhuman conditions in Tbilisi and other Georgian towns, and offered an across-the-board amnesty to all those who were involved in the hostilities.

Kolbaia also repeated a call made two weeks ago by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze for an international conference involving Russia and Western powers, under the auspices of the U.N. to discuss a settlement of the conflict. He said Georgia does not exclude the possibility that Russia may be the host and initiator of such a conference. Other participants expressed approval for greater Western involvement in the search for a solution to the conflict.

Representatives of the Abkhazia's erstwhile Georgian community took a more hardline position, blaming Russia for Georgia's disintegration. The Chairman of the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, said that Georgian leaders had been told in Moscow that if they want to resolve the Abkhaz problem they must help to reconstruct the Soviet Union. Georgian parliament deputy Boris Kakubava similarly blamed Russia for the current situation and called for the immediate withdrawal of the CIS peace-keeping force. He said that there was no place for Russia in the Caucasus.

Georgian academics, by contrast, demonstrated greater flexibility and willingness to consider compromise solutions. Prominent intellectual Zaal Kikodze called for the lifting of the economic blockade on Abkhazia, while Freedom Party spokesman Archil Morchiladze called for negotiations between two equal parties. Academic Ghia Nodia said that Georgia should stop trying to look for solutions to its problems outside and embark on an active dialogue with the Abkhaz leadership in Sukhumi.