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Russian Newspaper on Row over Abkhaz Property Rights
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 26 Aug.'10 / 01:30

Sokhumi's "hysteria" over Moscow-proposed joint commission to work on restitution of property of Russian citizens in Abkhazia, is groundless as it is not "infringing the Abkhaz interests," the Russian daily, Kommersant, reported quoting an unnamed source from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The issue became a source of controversy in Abkhazia after the local newspaper, Nuzhnaya, accused the Abkhaz leadership of "anti-state and anti-Abkhaz" actions for considering a proposal on "the concept of a joint Russian-Abkhaz commission on restoration of property rights of the Russia citizens in Abkhazia." The article, published on August 17, said, that the concept would pave the way for the return of thousands of those Georgians, who fled Abkhazia after the armed conflict in early 90s and who now reside in Russia, holding Russian passports.

PM of breakaway region, Sergey Shamba, confirmed that such proposal on setting up of the joint commission was received from the Russian Foreign Ministry, but said it was immediately rejected by Sokhumi.

"There is nothing in the document that can be viewed as negative or infringing Abkhaz interests," the Kommersant reported quoting the Russian Foreign Ministry source. "This is a draft document, which was elaborated based on taking into consideration desires of Russians [who seek restoration of property rights in Abkhazia]... No one is saying that the joint [Russian-Abkhaz] commission should return dwellings to everyone without prior consideration [of individual cases]. And allegations, that Russia wants to return Georgian refugees [back to Abkhazia] are utter absurd."

"Some in Abkhazia simply do not want Russians, who lived in Abkhazia before the war and possessed dwelling there, to return. I do not rule out that all this hysteria is just a stage show of the Abkhaz authorities, who have decided to reject creation of the commission, citing negative public reaction," the source was quoted.

According to the Kommersant, "more and more" Russian citizens, most of them not ethnic Georgians, have been appealing the Abkhaz authorities, as well as the Russian Foreign Ministry recently with the request to help regain thier properties abandoned during the war in Abkhazia in early 90s.

Shamba said on August 23, that after the war many of those people whose houses were destroyed during the war, had to settle in abandoned houses and restitution of property would be a painful process. He said that Sokhumi was not rejecting considering this issue, but it required a thorough deliberation in order to also prevent return of those ethnic Georgians, who lived in Abkhazia before the war and now hold Russian passports.

The Kommersant wrote that adoption of such proposal by Sokhumi "carries a threat of real riots." An editor of Sokhumi-based newspaper, Chegemskaya Pravda, Inal Khashig told the Kommersant, that despite Sokhumi's close ties with Moscow, in this particular case the Abkhaz authorities "are guided with survival instinct; they will be swept away if they accept this proposal."

Paata Zakareishvili, a frequent commentator on Abkhaz-related issues and a member of Georgian opposition Republican Party, told the RFE/RL Georgian service, that Sokhumi's rejection of Moscow's proposal was driven with fear towards possible change of demographic situation in the region.

"They [Abkhazians] are of course afraid of return of Russians and Armenians, but they are not saying it [publicly]... They only mention Georgians, because they know it will be sold easily... This is a strong argument for them and are hiding stronger fears behind this argument. So while speaking out publicly against [return of] Georgians, they at the same time speak out against [return of] Russians and Armenians as well," Zakareishvili said.

The Kommersant also reported, that Russia had long been pressing Sokhumi to amend its law, which does not allow foreigners to buy property in Abkhazia. Although there are cases, when Russians buy property in Abkhazia through various schemes bypassing the law. Abkhaz leader, Sergey Bagapsh, said in February, 2010, that the law would be emended and ban would be dropped only for the Russian citizens; he, however, also said that the issue required “a thorough consideration.”

This month Bagapsh told Newsweek, that he had reached an agreement with Russia's PM Vladimir Putin that will allow Russian citizens to own private property in Abkhazia.

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