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Georgia: Official Considers Abkhaz Conflict An 'Open Wound'

Crans-Montana, 30 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's state minister, Niko Lekishvili, has described the unsettled conflict with separatists in Abkhazia as an "open wound" which creates obstacles for economic development.

Lekishvili mentioned the conflict during an address yesterday to an international business conference in the Swiss mountain resort of Crans-Montana. The conflict itself was not discussed at the conference.

Separatist forces seized control of Abkhazia, on the Black Sea, in 1994 after severe fighting with Georgian troops. Between 200,000-300,000 Georgian residents fled and have been unable to return home despite intervention by international organizations, including the United Nations. A Russian peacekeeping force now separates the two sides. Negotiations on a settlement are now underway in Moscow with Georgia insisting on retaining its territorial integrity while offering Abkhazia the highest degree of autonomy.

Lekishvili told the conference: "I want to tell you that the conflict in Abkhazia remains an open wound for Georgia. The OSCE summit meetings in Budapest in 1994 and in Lisbon in 1996 condemned the elimination of the Georgian population of Abkhazian and the ethnic cleansing which was carried-out against them by the ruling criminal separatist regime.

"More than ten resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and statements by the Council of the Heads of State of the CIS countries unequivocally support the territorial integrity of Georgia and the right of all the displaced persons and refugees to return to the places of their permanent residence.

"However, because of the destructive position of the separatists, the process of regulation of the conflict has not developed. This not only makes unbearable the lives of 3,000,000 refugees and the people left in the conflict zone, but it is also a serious obstacle for the development of our progressive economy and creates social problems for us.

"The Georgian government is strongly committed to the political resolution of the conflict within any kind of a framework -- whether it be the current consultations which are taking place in Moscow or the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations with the participation of the OSCE and the group of Friends of Georgia countries, including the U.S., Britain, Germany, France and Russia.

"In our turn we are offering the Abkhaz side the highest form of autonomy which exists in today's world with their own constitution, parliament, government, flag, anthem. etc."