An increase in violent incidents in the border region between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is worrying international officials trying to guide the peace process between the two sides. A new report from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that in the absence of meaningful negotiations between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, shootings, kidnappings and robberies remain at high levels in the UN-monitored cease-fire zone. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon examines the issues that will be considered by the UN Security Council this week.
United Nations, 24 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A new report from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan raises concerns about the peace process between Georgia and Abkhazia. It warns that in the absence of political talks, the security situation is likely to worsen.
Annan's report to the UN Security Council, issued yesterday (23 July), says a series of killings and hostage-taking incidents during the past three months has disrupted talks between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. He urged both sides to swiftly resolve two incidents -- in which six people were killed and two taken hostage -- that occurred earlier this month (8 and 9 July) northwest of Abkhazia's Kodori Valley. Abkhaz officials allege Georgian involvement in the incidents and refused to take part in two meetings with Georgian officials set for last week.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, quoting the secretary-general's report, urged the two sides to work through established procedures to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Attempts to hold the peace process hostage to political demands are a cause for concern. (Annan) also urges the parties to follow up on a program of action of confidence-building measures, to which they agreed at Yalta (in Ukraine) last March, and warns that the ongoing violence is a constant threat to the peace process."
Annan's report said that in the past three months, the conflict zone monitored by UN observers continued to be plagued by criminality and lawlessness. It reported 21 killings, 10 abductions, and 45 robberies during that time. And in a new incident on Sunday (22 July), four Abkhazians -- two civilians and two soldiers -- were killed by unknown gunmen in an attack in the Gali district in the Georgian-Abkhaz border zone.
The secretary-general called for both sides to respect UN-brokered security arrangements. He called on the Georgian side, in particular, to honor its commitment to stop the movement of illegal armed groups crossing into Abkhazia from the Georgian-controlled side of the cease-fire line.
Annan said it is crucial for a draft proposal on the separation of powers between Georgia and Abkhazia to be completed so that both sides can begin meaningful political talks. The draft is being prepared by the Group of the Friends of the Secretary-General, consisting of permanent Security Council members Russia, the United States, Britain, and France, as well as Ukraine, a temporary council member, and Germany.
The group met in New York yesterday ahead of the planned meeting of the full Security Council tomorrow (25 July) to discuss the Abkhaz situation.
A copy of the draft proposal was obtained by RFE/RL. It calls for Abkhazia to be a sovereign entity "based on the rule of law" within the state of Georgia. Abkhazia would enjoy a legally protected special status providing for broad powers as well as "guarantees for the rights and interests of the multiethnic population of Abkhazia."
Georgia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Gueorgui Volski, told RFE/RL that Georgia supports the draft proposal as a basis for future talks with the Abkhaz side. He echoed comments made yesterday by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who said that Georgia was hopeful the Security Council will move ahead in its upcoming discussions with the outlines of a peace plan.
Shevardnadze told a news conference in Tbilisi that Russia was showing "positive" signals it was close to joining the other members of the Friends Group in endorsing the draft proposal on Abkhazia's status. But officials at Russia's UN mission yesterday did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
Georgian officials in the past have accused Russia of delaying progress on the proposed draft because it disagreed with the definition of Abkhazia's legal status. But they now say Russia apparently softened its stance on the issue during closed-door discussions in New York nearly three months ago. France was believed to be a key member in the Group of Friends influencing Russia to change its position.
At the same time, Abkhazia has repeatedly rejected discussions on the status issue. It says the region's status was conclusively decided upon in its declaration of independence in 1995. The breakaway state is not recognized internationally.
As part of its discussions during the next two weeks, the UN Security Council is expected to vote for the extension of the 106-member UN observer mission for another six months. The mission works in coordination with a 1,800-strong Russian-led peacekeeping force from the Commonwealth of Independent States to safeguard the cease-fire line drawn up after the 1992 to 1993 Georgia-Abkhaz war.
(The full report of the secretary-general can be found at the following location: http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2001/sgrep01.htm)