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Tensions Grow, as Abashidze Says No to Disarmament
/ 13 Apr.'04 / 19:09
Civil Georgia

Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said after talks with Adjarian leader that Aslan Abashidze has chosen “a way of confrontation,” as the talks on April 13 failed to bring progress into troubled relations of the central authorities with Adjara's self-minded leader. Aslan Abashidze is strongly opposing the demands of the Geogian government to disarm the vigilante groups. 

Four-hour talks in Adjarian capital Batumi between Aslan Abashidze and Zurab Zhvania, were attended by the Secretary of the National Security Council and the special representative of the Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General.

Zhvania said a failure to find a compromise “heats up tensions." Georgian government is planning to come up with a specific course of action after consultations with President Saakashvili scheduled for April 14.  

“Aslan Abashidze is not ready to disarm his paramilitary forces. He thinks he needs these groups and refuses any dialogue,” Vano Merabishvili said after the talks in Batumi on April 13.

“The issue of disarmament has not been solved. The problem will be settled only after the appropriate conditions are established in the country – I mean, when the tensions between Tbilisi and Batumi will be defused,” Rostom Japaridze, the Chairman of Adjara's Council of Ministers told the reporters.

Comments of Merabishvili suggest the government could be leaning towards toughening their stance against Abashidze. “If the local authorities of Adjara refuse to surrender arms, the central authorities will force them to obey the law,” the Secretary of the National Security Council added.

Failure to find a compromise on disarmament has precluded the dialogue on legislation that would define the powers of the autonomy and of the central government, which was lobbied by the Council of Europe. Prime Minister said “surrendering of arms was the only issue on the agenda” during the talks. Georgian government maintains that for any meaningful dialogue to take place, Adjarian authorities have to comply with the Constitutional provisions that unequivocally reserve the national security and military issues as the competencies of Tbilisi government.

President Saakashvili warned Adjarian authorities on April 12 once again that in case of refusal to disarm paramilitary forces, he would disband the local legislative body – the Supreme Council and appoint snap elections. “I have the constitutional right to do so,” Saakashvili said.

According to article 73 of the Georgian Constitution, the President with the Parliament’s approval “halts or dismisses the activity of representative bodies of local self-government, or territorial units, if their activity endangers the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country or the exercise of Constitutional authority of state authority within the country.”

According to the Georgian central authorities Abashidze’s forces include 1500-strong well-trained military unit, four T-72 battle tanks, one military vessel and a helicopter.

In addition, as the Prime Minister said on April 13, around 2,000-3,000 firearms have been distributed among Abashidze’s supporters in recent months to form the vigilante groups. President Saakashvili offered the Adjarians to buy out these firearms. Zhvania said that the central authorities, with the assistance of a group of businessmen, were ready to allocate $500,000 for this initiative.

Moreover, the problem persists in regard of the 25th brigade of the Georgian Armed Forces, which is deployed in Adjarian capital Batumi. The commander of this military detachment Gen. Roman Dumbadze has refused to obey the orders of the President.

Gen. Dumbadze was relieved of his command on 3 April by the direct orders of Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili. He was accused of insubordination during a standoff between Tbilisi and Batumi in March, a claim that was confirmed by the internal investigation of the Ministry of Defense. Later on, President Saakashvili used his authority as supreme commander of the armed forces to dismiss Gen. Dumbadze from the military service.

Servicemen of the 25th Brigade were expected to participate in the military exercises in the Black Sea town of Poti, near the Adjarian Autonomy, however the exercises were postponed for unspecified reasons.

Collapse of talks with Adjarian leadership may herald the new armed standoff between Abashdize's supporters and the central authorities as the window of opportunity for the dialogue seems to have vanished. A lot would depend on a specific course of action the government agrees on on April 14.

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