At the largest-ever military parade in Georgia’s history that marked Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26th, President Saakashvili addressed both the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides in their native languages and called for peace talks over the status of these breakaway regions.
“I want to tell Abkhazians and Ossetians that we are ready to extend a hand of friendship. I call on the Abkhazians to launch talks with us. I also appeal to our Ossetian friends to take into account the interests of Georgia and we will take into account their interests,” Saakashvili said.
“The ultimate goal of my presidency is to reunite Georgia,” he added. Mikheil Saakashvili said Tbilisi is ready to grant the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia the largest possible autonomy within the Georgian state.
He also called on Georgians to be “more tolerant" in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past, which led to the disintegration of the state.
The Georgian President said that Tbilisi will offer the Abkhaz side “a federation under a context of asymmetrical regionalism” - a cornerstone principle of the Abkhazia peace plan , developed by a group of Georgian experts, which outlines measures and proposals concerning the resolution of the decade-long standstill conflict in Abkhazia.
Mikheil Saakashvili’s appeal, addressed in Abkhazian language, pleased de facto authorities of breakaway region; however, Sukhumi again rejected proposals over the talks about Abkhazia’s status and still insists on internationally recognized independence for the region.
The Georgian news agency Interpress quoted Abkhaz de facto Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as saying that negotiations over Abkhazia’s status within the Georgian state “is ruled out.” He also said that there “was nothing new” in the offer made by Mikheil Saakashvili on May 26th.
The Abkhaz side has maintained its uncompromising position over its status for many years and Tbilisi does not expect any breakthrough in regards to this, at least not before the autumn, when Abkhazia elects its new leader.
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Goga Khaindrava said on May 20th that the Georgian side is hopeful that “progressive forces” will take over power in Abkhazia as a result of the elections scheduled for October. The term of ailing, current de facto Abkhaz President, Vladislav Ardzinba, expires this year.
President Saakashvili’s May 26th statements were followed by the largest-ever military parade in Georgia. The President said, on May 25th, that the parade aimed towards a “demonstration of Georgia’s forces.” However, he also said that Georgia will use only peaceful means to reunite Georgia.
“We want peace and talks. But we are ready to make an adequate response against aggression,” he said. According to the Georgian Defense Ministry, up to 8,000 soldiers and officers from the best trained units of the armed forces and up to one-hundred armored vehicles, heavy artillery and 'Grad' missile launchers, as well as anti-aircraft missiles, were demonstrated at the military parade.
The Georgian air forces also participated in the parade. Four Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircrafts, as well as Mi-24, Mi-14 and U.S.-granted UH-1H Iroquois "Huey" helicopters flew over Tbilisi. A naval parade will be held in the capital of the Adjarian Autonomy, Batumi, which will also be attended by President Saakashvili. According to the official figures, 650,000 Lari (USD 325,000) was spent to hold the military parade.
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