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Caucasus Report: May 19, 1998

19 May 1998, Volume 1, Number 12

Peace Prospects Bleak in Abkhazia ... The resolution "On Additional Measures to Resolve the Conflict in Abkhazia" endorsed by the presidents of seven CIS member states either before or at their 29 April summit in Moscow appears to be having the opposite effect from that intended -- assuming that the Russian Foreign Ministry, which drafted it, was not deliberately playing spoiler. The resolution reiterates the proposal made by CIS heads of state in March, 1997, to extend the security zone controlled by CIS peacekeepers throughout Abkhazia's southernmost Gali raion. In addition, it strongly condemns the continued postponement of the beginning of the repatriation of ethnic Georgian displaced persons who fled Gali during the1992-1993 war. The resolution pegs measures to restore the Abkhaz economy to the successful repatriation of displaced persons to Gali by the end of1998, and advocates the creation in Gali of joint Georgian/Abkhaz local administrative bodies with UN and OSCE representation to oversee the repatriation process.

All these measures have already been rejected as unacceptable by the Abkhaz, who argue that the "Additional Measures" are not valid as they were not unanimously adopted by all CIS heads of state. The Abkhaz parliament has repeatedly protested that the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force may not be amended without the consent of the Abkhaz side. As for linking economic construction to the repatriation of DPs, the Abkhaz advocate making the start of the repatriation process contingent on lifting the economic sanctions imposed on their republic in January, 1996.

Now the Abkhaz leadership has gone further, asking for the postponement of a meeting of the Coordinating Council set up late last year under the UN aegis as a forum for discussing security issues, repatriation and economic reconstruction. (That meeting had been scheduled for late May.) On 14 May, the Abkhaz parliament adopted a resolution condemning the "Additional Measures" as an attempt by the Russian and Georgian foreign ministries to pressure Abkhazia. The resolution calls on President Vladislav Ardzinba to revoke the mandate of CIS peacekeepers and to reject any further Russian mediation in the conflict. This ultimatum serves to underscore the differences between the pragmatic Ardzinba and more radical Abkhaz politicians who are prepared to risk alienating Moscow rather than make even minor concessions to Tbilisi.

Visiting Sukhumi on 16 May, the UN special envoy to Georgia, Liviu Bota, expressed concern at the recent wave of what he termed professionally planned and executed terrorist activities in Gali. (In the most recent such incident on 18 May, guerrillas from the Georgian White Legion attacked a house in a Gali village, killing 17 Abkhaz police officers.) Bota said that neither Abkhazia nor Georgia appears to want peace, and warned that the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces from the region would render the situation potentially explosive. (Liz Fuller)

... Unclear In Nagorno-Karabakh ... Between 12 -16 May, the three co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group travelled to Yerevan, Stepanakert and Baku for the first time since the February resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian's conditional acceptance last autumn of the Minsk Group's draft "phased" peace plan had triggered a confrontation with then Prime Minister (and former president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) Robert Kocharian, who favoured a "package" peace deal that would simultaneously resolve all contentious issues, including Karabakh's future status vis-a-vis the central Azerbaijani authorities.

Kocharian, who was elected Armenian president in March, told the co-chairmen on 15 May that Yerevan is ready for "serious discussions" in the hope of resolving the conflict as swiftly as possible. But he reiterated the main points of Armenia's new negotiating position, which Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian had outlined to the co-chairs two days earlier, namely, that talks be resumed without preconditions, that Nagorno-Karabakh should be a full party to those talks, that the talks should focus on a package, rather than a phased solution to the conflict, and that Karabakh's future status should be defined in terms of horizontal relations between it and Baku. These demands are, however, anathema to the Azerbaijani leadership, which unconditionally endorsed last year's Minsk Group phased peace plan.

Many commentators have condemned what they term the "hardline" Armenian demands, which they argue will make it more difficult to devise a blueprint for resolving the conflict. This view is not, however, shared by the German representative to the Minsk Group, Frank Lambach, who met with Oskanian in Bonn on 4 May and in Yerevan two weeks later. Lambach characterized the Armenian negotiating position as "pragmatic" and "capable of promoting a solution to the conflict." But according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta"'s Yerevan correspondent, Lambach also concurred that existing models for conflict resolution are not appropriate in the Karabakh context, and that the international community should devise a new peace formula. RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent similarly quoted the speakers of both the Armenia and NKR parliaments, Khosrov Harutiunian and Oleg Yesayan, as affirming that the approaches of the two governments to resolving the Karabakh conflict are fully identical, and that both hope that the international community will craft a new peace plan that will rule out Karabakh's "subordination" to Baku. (Liz Fuller)

... But Brighter In South Ossetia. An agreement on South Ossetia's future status within Georgia may be within reach following last week's talks in Tbilisi between Shevardnadze and North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, who categorically rejected the aspirations of some South Ossetians political figures for their region's secession from Georgia and unification with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation. Instead, Dzasokhov endorsed the concept of federal states, such as Russia or the "asymmetric federation" proposed by Shevardnadze, as the ideal framework for endowing the regions of the Caucasus with the maximum self-determination. Dzasokhov added, however, that he expected Shevardnadze to show generosity in the degree of self-government allocated to Georgia's former autonomies. Shevardnadze is to meet with South Ossetian President Lyudwig Chibirov in Borjomi on 9 June; Dzasokhov will also be present at those talks. (Liz Fuller)

Is A Ter-Petrossian Comeback In The Making? Armenian political commentators have suggested that the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) -- the senior partner in the former ruling Hanrapetutiun coalition -- may be contemplating the ouster of its current chairman in order to engineer the political comeback of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian. At a meeting of the HHSh board on 8 May, its current chairman, Vano Siradeghian, demanded a vote of confidence in his leadership, which he claimed was needed in the light of the changed domestic political landscape following the election of former Premier Robert Kocharian as president. Of the 26 HHSh board members, 24 duly endorsed Siradeghian in a secret ballot. But some of the board's most influential members are known to oppose their present chairman. The dissenters include former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian and his deputy Ara Sahakian, and ex-Central Bank chairman Bagrat Asatrian. A second former deputy parliament speaker, Karapet Rubinian, has suspended his membership of the board for the duration of Siradeghian's chairmanship, and Aleksan Hagopian, who like Ter-Petrossian, Siradeghian and Ararktsian is a former member of the Karabakh Committee, has openly demanded Siradeghian's resignation.

"Azg" on 12 May quoted an unnamed source within the HHSh as confirming that the struggle between the pro- and anti-Siradeghian wings of the movement is intensifying, and that the latter is indeed preparing "to create an opening for Levon Ter-Petrossian's return to political life." Siradeghian, for his part, has indicated he will not step down voluntarily, telling "Aravot" "One does not quit politics, one is driven out. " (Liz Fuller)