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Sun Jun 13 11:11:26 2004

Original sender: RFE/RL <caucasus-report@list.rferl.org>

RFE/RL Caucasus Report Vol. 7, No. 23, 10 June 2004


On 21 May, the website Civil Georgia posted a summary of a draft peace
plan for Abkhazia prepared by Georgian political and legal experts,
including former Deputy Justice Minister Kote Kublashvili. That plan has
been submitted to Georgia's National Security Council for discussion.
The plan entails the creation of a two-member (Georgia and Abkhazia)
federal state within which Abkhazia would be granted the "broadest
possible degree of autonomy" in exchange for abandoning its insistence
on formal independence. According to Kublashvili, "Abkhazia will have
all the rights of a sovereign state except for one -- the right to
[internationally recognized] independence."
The peace proposal envisages the signing by the Georgian and Abkhaz
sides of agreements on the non-resumption of hostilities and on
resolving future disagreements exclusively by peaceful means, through
negotiations. After that, the Federal State of Georgia and its
co-member, the Abkhaz Republic would sign an agreement on the
istribution of powers between them. According to Kublashvili, neither
side would be empowered to make subsequent amendments to that agreement
without the consent of the other party.
The draft identifies as falling under the jurisdiction of the central
authorities defense and foreign policy, border defense, the customs
service, and the fight against organized crime. All other issues would
lie within the competence of the Abkhaz authorities. Abkhazia would not
be entitled to maintain its own armed forces but would have its own
police force. Young men from Abkhazia drafted into the Georgian Army
would perform their military service in units stationed in Abkhazia, not
elsewhere in Georgia.
Abkhazia would be a parliamentary republic, and the majority of
parliament deputies would be ethnic Abkhaz, even though if all, or even
a majority, of the Georgian displaced persons who fled the region in
1992-1993 return to their homes, the Abkhaz will again become a
minority. (As of early 1992, before the armed conflict erupted, the
Abkhaz numbered some 95,000 or approximately 18 percent of the
republic's population; the 240,000 Georgians were the largest ethnic
group, accounting for some 45 percent of the total population.)
Elections would take place only after the displaced persons' return. It
is, moreover, not clear whether the displaced persons themselves would
agree to a division of parliament mandates on ethnic lines that leaves
them at a disadvantage. In addition, an unspecified number of mandates
in the Georgian federal parliament would be reserved for ethnic Abkhaz.
Those Abkhaz deputies would have the right to veto legislation directly
concerning Abkhazia.
The population of Abkhazia would have the right to determine whether the
republic should have a president. While the Abkhaz would in all
likelihood endorse that idea, the returned Georgians might very well
reject it. That provision thus constitutes one of the plan's "weak
links," and could ultimately lead to its rejection by the Abkhaz unless
the draft is amended to provide for the post of president. The draft
stipulates that the president must not necessarily be Abkhaz, but should
speak both Abkhaz and Georgian, a requirement that would rule out most
former Georgian residents of Abkhazia. By contrast, the Abkhaz law on
the election of the president passed last month stipulates that the
president must be an ethnic Abkhaz, speak the Abkhaz language, and have
lived in Abkhazia for five years prior to the ballot (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 1 June 2004).
Central to the draft agreement is the right of those displaced persons
who wish to do so to return to Abkhazia. But Kublashvili stressed that
the repatriation process will be "gradual and voluntary." He also said
it will be preceded by a census, conducted jointly by Abkhaz and
Georgian officials, of the present population of Abkhazia and the
displaced persons currently living elsewhere in Georgia. (The
reregistration of displaced persons in Georgia has in fact already
begun.) Kublashvili said the document "considers" monetary compensation
for those displaced persons whose homes and property were destroyed.
This too could prove a major obstacle, as the Abkhaz whose homes were
destroyed by Georgians are likely to argue that their claims to
compensation are as valid as are those of Georgians whose homes were
destroyed, or taken over, by Abkhaz. In addition, as Kublashvili points
out, the draft peace plan clearly envisages that a part of the funds
required will be provided by the international community.
Following the repatriation, all residents of Abkhazia will be entitled
to citizenship of both Abkhazia and the federal Georgian state; but only
the latter citizenship will be internationally recognized.
As for the economy, the draft plan envisages the lifting of the economic
sanctions currently in force against Abkhazia and the unrestricted
resumption of rail and air transport between Tbilisi and Sukhum.
Abkhazia will have the right to impose and collect dues and taxes, but
will be required to transfer an unspecified percentage of those taxes to
the federal budget. The Georgian lari will become the legal Abkhaz
currency, but Abkhazia would have the right to issue, for circulation on
its territory, lari-denominated notes and coins bearing Abkhaz symbols
and with lettering in both Abkhaz and Georgian.
Insofar as the new draft peace plan defines Abkhazia as a sovereign
entity within Georgia, it appears to be similar to the draft "Basic
Principles for the Division of Competencies between Tbilisi and
Sukhumi," authored by former UN Special Representative or Abkhazia
Dieter Boden. Details of the so-called "Boden Document" have never been
made public. The Abkhaz authorities, however, have consistently refused
even to accept a copy of the "Basic Principles" from either Boden or his
successor, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini.
They argue that the region's population has already voted, (n a
referendum in late 1999, to approve a constitution that defines the
Republic of Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state.
The Abkhaz strategy is presumably predicated on the assumption that
Moscow will continue to uphold the status quo. Up to 70 per cent of the
Abkhaz have availed themselves of the offer of Russian passports, and
the Russian State Duma repeatedly stresses Russia's obligation to
protect Russian citizens in other CIS states. But the Russian government
may prove less altruistic. Georgian commentators have raised the
possibility that Moscow and Tbilisi may have cut a deal under which
Moscow would support a formal ettlement of the conflict and the
repatriation of Georgian displaced persons in exchange for privileges
for Russian businessmen wishing to invest in Abkhazia and the
construction of an oil export pipeline from Novorossiisk (on Russia's
Black Sea coast) that would link up with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
pipeline currently under construction, according to the daily
"Rezonansi" on 27 May. Such a pipeline would provide an alternative
export route for Russian oil that avoids the Turkish straits bottleneck.
(Speaking in St. Petersburg on 4 June, Turkish Grand National Assembly
speaker Bulent Arinc stressed that Ankara has no intention of lifting
the strict limitations on the number of tankers that may pass through
the straits, as those limitations are dictated by security and
ecological concerns, Interfax reported.) Abkhaz hopes that Russia may at
some point recognize Abkhazia as an independent state seem utopian
insofar as such recognition would strengthen the Chechens' legal claim
to independence.
But even if the Kremlin withdraws its support for the Abkhaz and advises
them to accept the offer of a federation with Georgia, two further
factors could sabotage the proposed federal agreement. The first is the
Georgian displaced persons who, as indicated above, may reject the
proposed plan for a legislature in which they constitute a minority.
Professor Bruno Coppieters, a Belgian expert on constitutional law who
has written extensively on Abkhazia, noted in comments sent to "RFE/RL
Caucasus Report" that the Georgian community in Abkhazia was not happy
with a similar allocation of seats in 1991. (At that time, the Abkhaz
had 28 mandates, the Georgians 26, and representatives of other ethnic
groups 11). "Over-representation is possible and legitimate, but should
not be pushed too far," Coppieters wrote. "Other power-sharing
techniques are available that are more effective in overcoming ethnic
conflicts and give guarantees to the various communities that they will
not be continuously excluded from power."
The second factor is South Ossetia. The Georgian government apparently
believes the predominantly Ossetian population of that unrecognized
republic can be persuaded by a combination of threats and economic
blandishments to denounce its present pro-Moscow leadership and
acknowledge that South Ossetia is Georgian territory. Ossetians might,
however, argue that any renunciation of the region's self-proclaimed
independence should be contingent on the region's inclusion, together
with Abkhazia, in a future Georgian federation. Finally, it should be
noted that the draft agreement on the Georgian-Abkhaz federation does
not mention the future status of Adjara, let alone make provision for
providing a degree of autonomy to any other region that might in future
demand it, such as the largely Armenian- populated region of Djavakheti
in southern Georgia. (Liz Fuller)