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Sokhumi’s Mixed Reactions to Proposed Meeting in Berlin
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 25 Jul.'08 / 20:31

Although Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh ruled out direct talks with Tbilisi, he did not rule out Sokhumi’s possible participation in a meeting of the Group of Friends in Berlin – a position somewhat different from that adopted by other Abkhaz officials earlier on July 25.

Mathew Bryza, the U.S. deputy assistance secretary of state, and Patricia Flor, the German ambassador in Georgia, visited Sokhumi on July 25 in an attempt to convince the Abkhaz side to participate in talks in Berlin next week. They also discussed with the Abkhaz leadership the German-proposed three-stage plan.

Bagapsh said after meeting with the German ambassador that the Abkhaz side would consider the possibility of taking part in the Berlin meeting if the UN secretary general’s Group of Friends on Georgia (France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the U.S.) “renders tangible assistance” to the Abkhaz side in pushing its position on upper Kodori Gorge and treaty on non-use of force.

The Abkhaz side has set two preconditions for resuming direct talks with Tbilisi: the withdrawal of Georgian forces from upper Kodori Gorge and the signing of a treaty on the non-use of force.

Sergey Shamba, the Abkhaz foreign minister, also said later on July 25 that Sokhumi was not “in principle” against the Berlin meeting, but added that even if Sokhumi agreed to participate, that would not mean the resumption of direct talks with Tbilisi.

“A meeting of the Group of Friends does not mean negotiations between the [conflicting] sides,” he said later on July 25. “The Group of Friends invites the conflicting sides and listens to their opinion and position.”

He, however, also said that the proposed date of the meeting – sometime next week – was not acceptable for Sokhumi. Shamba, however, did not specify why. “We’ll see when this meeting can be possible and we will let you know about our proposal,” Apsnipress news agency quoted Shamba as saying.

In separate remarks reported earlier on July 25, Shamba seemed against the Berlin meeting. “The resumption of talks before the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the upper Kodori Gorge would mean that the Abkhaz side is accepting the new existing reality [in upper Kodori], which has emerged as a result of illegal actions by the Georgian side,” he said.

Remarks made by Stanislav Lakoba, the secretary of the Abkhaz National Security Council, over the matter were also different from those of the Abkhaz leader.

Lakoba said earlier on July 25 after meeting with Bryza that Sokhumi’s participation in the Berlin meeting was ruled out. He said: “I would not even discuss this issue at all. We can discuss it only after our terms are met.”

“The Abkhaz side is not going to turn the issue of the withdrawal of Georgian forces from upper Kodori into a matter of negotiations,” Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported, quoting Lakoba as saying. “The withdrawal of the forces should be a precondition for the resumption of talks and not a topic for talks.”

After visiting Sokhumi, the U.S. deputy assistance secretary was due to meet President Saakashvili in Batumi later on July 25. He plans to hold a news conference in Tbilisi on July 26.

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