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United Nations: Annan Calls For Political Will To Solve Abkhazia Dispute

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Georgia and separatist leaders in Abkhazia to find the political will to end their dispute. Annan recommends that the UN observer mission in the area remain another six months to maintain calm and help promote a lasting peace settlement. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 24 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the leaders of Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia remain in a political stalemate, unwilling to engage in dialogue that can end their dispute.

Annan's report to the UN Security Council on Friday says that seven years after the UN observer mission was set up, the region it monitors between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is still a dangerous place. And he says there are clear signs that organized crime -- particularly smuggling -- is proliferating across the ceasefire line.

The Secretary-General's report recommends that the Security Council extend the mission of 102 military observers through the end of January next year to maintain relative calm in the area.

But Annan also called on the Georgian and Abkhaz sides to fully engage in negotiations.

The issue of most importance is Abkhazia's political status, but the two sides also need to discuss issues such as the return of 280,000 displaced persons, security, and economic rehabilitation.

Annan's report says a step in the right direction was the 11 July 2000 meeting of the Coordinating Council. At this session the two sides, plus representatives of the UN and CIS peacekeeping forces, signed a protocol on measures to prevent destabilization in southern Abkhazia. Among the measures was an agreement by the two sides to deploy no more than 600 troops and police on each side of the conflict region.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard on Friday quoted Annan as saying this protocol needs to followed up with substantive political talks.

"The results of the coordinating council session held on the eleventh of July have opened the prospect for constructive engagement between the parties. Nevertheless, Annan stresses that for the long term, no serious progress can be achieved without the demonstration of substantial political will from both sides."

The UN special representative for Georgia, Dieter Boden, will brief the Security Council next week on his efforts to prepare the way for a comprehensive political settlement. The Georgian government has said the best it can offer is the autonomy the Abkhazia already had before the civil war broke out in the early 1990s. The Abkhaz side rejects this.

UN humanitarian officials call this a "frozen conflict," leaving hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a wretched state.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Georgia, Marco Borsotti, addressed the issue at a conference on internally displaced persons at UN headquarters last week.

Borsotti said a group of UN agencies have launched a new initiative -- with the support of the Georgian government -- aimed at providing internally displaced Georgians with jobs and services provided to regular citizens. Seven years after fleeing their homes in Abkhazia, the needs of the IDPs have shifted from humanitarian assistance to development assistance.

Borsotti says the aim is to provide assistance such as job training and housing so that the displaced can move out of the shadow economy and dismal communal centers.

Borsotti told reporters Friday that the goal is to improve the lives of the IDPs by fully integrating them into Georgian society.

"They will be facilitated to participate in the same social structure and services that are provided to the rest of the population. Therefore, they will go the same schools, they will attend the same hospital and health system of the country."

The initiative, patterned after a similar approach for displaced people in Azerbaijan, is to cost more than one million dollars to start, and eventually add up to $100 million. Borsotti said the money is expected to come from loans, country donations and contributions from the private sector. He says the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands have already pledged donations.

Borsotti says the benefits from such a program are numerous, including easing the stress on civilian populations living near the displaced. Borsotti says the change in status should also make the IDPs less of a pressing issue in political talks between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides.

"We will ease the tensions that at the moment are still really impeding progresses into the peace negotiations by reducing the pressure for immediate return."

Most important, he says, is that when the displaced are finally able to return home, they will have received assistance beyond relief assistance that will help them actively participate in the life of their country. Under the new initiative, the IDPs who get proper employment will be eligible to pay taxes for the first time.