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All Change in Abkhaz Peace Process

Leading negotiators move on just as new plans emerge in the long-running Georgian-Abkhaz peace talks.
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Two influential leading figures are leaving the Georgian-Abkhaz peace process, creating a vacuum at a sensitive point in negotiations.



The leading international mediators in the process - Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, special representative of the United Nations Secretary General in Georgia, and the Georgian presidential representative Irakli Alasania, who has built up a good relationship with his Akbhaz counterparts - are both taking up new positions.



The two are leaving just as the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council on the dispute resumes work after a five-year break. Several new ideas are under discussion, including the formation of a UN police force for the conflict zone, the re-opening of a rail link via Abkhazia, and joint economic projects.



In May, Tbilisi and Sukhum exchanged formal peace plans for the first time since the conflict ended in 1993, with the loss of 15,000 lives and the flight of more than 200,000 Georgians from Abkhazia.



Tagliavini’s deputy, Bulgarian diplomat Ivo Petrov, will do the job in an acting capacity until a replacement is appointed.



Simultaneously, the longest-serving member of the UN mission, UNOMIG, senior political officer Marian Staszewski is retiring after 13 years in the post.



Thirty-two-year-old Alasania is to become Georgia’s new ambassador to the United Nations. He took up his position as negotiator in 2004 at a very tense time in Georgian-Abkhaz relations, but has succeeded in forging good contacts with his opposite numbers.



Georgian political analyst Paata Zakareishvili was less concerned by the departure of Tagliavini than by the loss of Alasania.



“Tagliavini’s departure means the loss of a person, not a policy,” Zakareishvili told IWPR. “But Alasania’s departure is a real loss. For the first time, a Georgian politician had begun to understand the Abkhaz side’s concerns and take them seriously, and this was greatly appreciated in Abkhazia.



“The departure of Alasania looks like a political decision – someone in the Georgian leadership does not like direct contacts with the Abkhaz.”



Abkhaz political analyst Spartak Zhidkov said the change of UN chief negotiator entailed “rethinking the meaning of the processes going on here. It’s possible that a new figure representing the international community will speak for these new ideas”.



Tagliavini, whose mandate ended on July 1, held her job for four years. At a press conference in Sukhum on June 23, she said she had achieved all she could in resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.



“I want to assure you that I’ve done the maximum possible,” she said. “The maximum of what I could have done, given all the objective facts.”



Tagliavini said one major achievement was that basic security had been ensured in the conflict zone. She recalled that in 2001, there were serious security problems in the Georgian-majority Gal district of Abkhazia (called Gali by the Georgians), but now, she said, “The situation [in the district] has improved considerably over the past few years. And I attribute these positive changes in part to the work of the UN mission.”



All sides agree that the security situation in Gal district has improved in the last few years and there are no longer the violent attacks and explosions that used to terrorise local people. The biggest problem now is crime.



However, Gal district is still a centre of controversy, as the Abkhaz have so far refused to accept proposals that a UN police force and a human rights office should be established there. Opposition politicians in Abkhazia oppose both ideas, believing them to be part of plans for a creeping re-integration of Abkhazia into Georgia.



However, Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the unrecognised state, said that in principle, he supported the UN’s plans.



“We have a very substantial component of military observers from the UN, and nothing will change if the observers are augmented by a small number of civilian policemen with nearly the same functions,” he told IWPR. “If we don’t make the move, the international community’s attitude toward us will become even more negative. I would say the same applies to a human rights office in Gal district.”



But Shamba warned that what he called “the Georgian leadership’s inappropriate position towards realistic negotiations” might jeopardise both proposals.



The dispute over Gal comes at a time when detailed peace proposals are on the table for the first time in many years.



For the last four years, the Abkhaz side has said they will not accept any negotiations which take as their starting point the so called “Boden document”, drawn up by Tagliavini’s predecessor, Dieter Boden.



The “Boden document” underscored the territorial integrity of Georgia, while the Abkhaz insist they have an independent state created by a referendum held in 1999.



However, Tagliavini told journalists in Abkhazia, “It seems we won’t be able to continue conflict resolution efforts in the context of Boden’s plan.”



In her final words as she prepared to leave Georgia, Tagliavini said “personal friendship” was essential for solving everything.



“It is essential to build a relationship of trust between the individuals taking part in the negotiations,” she said. “That will lead to results.”



Tagliavini quoted Boden who, learning that her mandate was ending, told her, “You won’t be able to forget the Caucasus.”



Anton Krivenyuk is a correspondent for IWPR’s Panorama newspaper in Abkhazia.

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