Senior officials in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have reacted with skepticism to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's November 23 pledge not to resort to military force
to bring those regions back under the control of the Georgian central government.
The Russian Foreign Ministry
has said it will give credence to Saakashvili's assurances only after they are committed to paper and thus acquire legal force. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz authorities have launched an apparent new bid to reassure and win the trust of the breakaway region's Georgian community.
Commenting on Saakashvili's speech to the European Parliament, de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maksim Gvinjia recalled
that "over the past 18 years Georgia has never once demonstrated positive intentions with regard to Abkhazia." For that reason, Gvinjia said, "for us, Saakashvili's statement does not constitute a signal that Georgia is ready to embark on a peace dialogue with us."
Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh for his part said categorically that "we do not believe" Saakashvili. He recalled, as did Gvinjia's South Ossetian counterpart Murat Dzhioyev
, that Saakashvili had publicly pledged not to attack Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the eve of what Bagapsh called "Georgia's barbaric aggression" against South Ossetia in August 2008.
Both Bagapsh and Dzhioyev reasoned that if Saakashvili is serious, he should sign separate legally binding agreements with the two entities on the nonuse of force. The two breakaway regions have raised that issue repeatedly
at successive sessions of the ongoing talks in Geneva jointly mediated by the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union. Georgia has consistently said it is willing to sign an agreement with Russia on the nonuse of force, but not with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it does not consider independent actors.
While the Geneva talks have failed to make substantive progress on resolving either humanitarian or security issues, the lower-level confidence-building and incident-prevention talks held under the aegis of the UN in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali district have proven more successful. Abkhaz citizen Garri Jopua, who was detained in early October, reportedly by Georgian security personnel ,after inadvertently straying on to the territory of Georgia proper, was released
one month later after the Abkhaz side formally sought the assistance of the Gali mediators in determining his whereabouts.
A UN press release said the most recent Gali meeting, on November 25, included "a useful exchange of information...with respect to the freedom of movement of local residents." It said "all participants engaged constructively" in that discussion.
Parallel talks involving the de facto South Ossetian leadership resumed
in late October after a long hiatus. The South Ossetians had suspended their participation in January to protest what they termed Tbilisi's refusal to provide information about South Ossetians believed to be held in Georgian custody.
Meanwhile, the Abkhaz authorities have launched a new initiative to address the fears and grievances of the overwhelmingly Georgian population of Gali. De facto Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab traveled to Gali
on November 24, where he met with 18 local people, including the wife of David Sigua, a local government official who disappeared, apparently abducted
by Georgian security personnel, in February 2007.
Bezhan Ubiria, elected from a Gali constituency to the Abkhaz National Assembly, told Ankvab the population's most pressing concerns included obtaining Abkhaz passports and the induction of young Georgian men into the Abkhaz Army.