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Tbilisi, Sokhumi Urged to Renew Talks
/ 24 Jul.'07 / 11:12
Civil Georgia

Tbilisi and Sokhumi should “redouble their efforts to avoid action that could lead to a renewal of hostilities,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his report to the Security Council.

The report made public on July 23 is an update of the situation in the Abkhaz conflict zone since the last report in April.

It says that despite the expectations raised by the high-level meeting of the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends in Geneva in February, dialogue between the sides has remained suspended.

The UN secretary general, however, expressed hope that both sides would capitalize on the results of the recent meeting of the Group of Friends in Bonn in June and “take concrete steps to implement the understandings” reached at the meeting.

Sokhumi has continued to link the resumption of dialogue to preconditions, such as the withdrawal of Georgian forces and the Tbilisi-backed Abkhaz government-in-exile from the upper Kodori Gorge. It is also demanding the release of David Sigua, an ethnic Georgian working in the Abkhaz administrative structures of the Gali district. Sigua has been missing since February 2007.Tbilisi has consistently denied any involvement in the disappearance.

In the report, Ban Ki-moon, who paid a brief stopover visit to Tbilisi on June 29, called on the Georgian side to remove a patriotic youth camp from the Abkhaz conflict zone.

President Saakashvili inaugurated the state-sponsored camp for teenagers in the village of Ganmukhuri, less than a kilometer away from the Abkhaz-controlled territory, on May 26. Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze was visiting the camp on July 23.

“In order to reduce the possibility of incidents, the United Nations joins the Group of Friends in calling on the Government of Georgia to move the camp away from the security zone,” Ban Ki-moon said.

He also added that cultural activities “should be carried out in a manner that does not allow for misunderstanding, miscalculation and subsequent violence.”
 
He has also joined the calls for the establishment of a patrol base of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in the village of Azhara in the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge.

In a UNOMIG report on the March 11 attack on upper Kodori Gorge, such a post was recommended. The report suggested it be equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles and artillery radar to be operated by UNOMIG.
 
Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed the recommendation, saying  “such measures would undoubtedly increase the Mission’s operational capabilities, including its monitoring and observing capacities in the sensitive areas of operation.”

Tbilisi has welcomed the proposal, but Sokhumi remains opposed. Its foreign minister, Sergey Shamba, said Sokhumi would only consider the proposal, if Tbilisi withdrew from the upper Kodori Gorge.

The UN secretary general pointed out that there was a willingness to implement confidence-building measures. The Georgian side, he said, had in February reaffirmed its readiness to facilitate contacts between Abkhazians and the Abkhaz community in Turkey.

“It was also prepared to discuss the modalities for the establishment of maritime communications between Sokhumi and Trabzon, Turkey,” the report states.

That particular initiative, however, has been turned down. Sergey Shamba, the Abkhaz foreign minister, said on July 13 that the sticking point in the discussions over modalities was who should inspect vessels and where.

“Georgia had insisted on inspecting vessels in the ports of Poti or Batumi," Shamba said. "We, however, rejected this proposal. Then the Georgian side suggested inspecting ships in international waters. But this proposal is also unacceptable.”
 
Sokhumi is insisting that only Russian peacekeepers or UN observers be allowed to inspect vessels.

Discussion on the maritime link first emerged in 2005. Since then, however, the issue had remained closed until last February, at least publicly.

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