MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 341: excerpts

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Tue May 30 08:06:28 2006


Original sender: Institute for War & Peace Reporting <info@iwpr.net>


WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 341, May 25, 2006
 
CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE MAY 25
 
PROGRESS IN ABKHAZ PEACE TALKS The fact that Tbilisi and Sukhum come up
with new peace initiatives is seen as a positive step, even if they
continue to disagree on most issues. By Anton Krivenyuk in Sukhum and
Sofo Bukia in Tbilisi
 
EU COULD ASSUME PEACEKEEPING ROLE The European Union’s new special
representative for the South Caucasus sees an enhanced role for the EU
in conflict resolution. By Thomas de Waal in London
 
DISCONTENT WITH BESLAN TRIAL Survivors of the school siege say officials
should answer for negligence which contributed to the high casualty
rate. By Alan Tskhurbayev in Vladikavkaz
 
CHECHNYA: LIVING WITH A VENGEANCE War has triggered a new kind of
revenge killing, but peace could make it even worse. By Amina Visayeva
in Grozny.
 
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PROGRESS IN ABKHAZ PEACE TALKS 
 
The fact that Tbilisi and Sukhum come up with new peace initiatives is
seen as a positive step, even if they continue to disagree on most
issues. 
 
By Anton Krivenyuk in Sukhum and Sofo Bukia in Tbilisi
 
New life was breathed into the Abkhazian peace process this week when
Georgian presidential adviser Irakli Alasania personally handed a peace
plan to the Abkhaz authorities.
 
The plan presented by Alasania, together with an Abkhaz plan which
President Sergei Bagapsh handed over in Tbilisi on May 15, represent the
most detailed documents to be presented since the conflict ended 12
years ago with Abkhazia claiming independence from Georgia – a claim
still unrecognised by the outside world.
 
Calling his plan a “key to the future”, Bagapsh told journalists that
“goodwill on both sides is the key to success and… a lasting peace”.
 
Although the exchange of documents represented a step forward, each side
was extremely cool about the other’s proposals. 
 
Referring to Bagapsh’s plan, Georgia’s conflict resolution minister
Giorgi Khaindrava told IWPR, “The name lacks two words: it should have
been called a “key to the future of independent Abkhazia.” 
 
Khaindrava said the plan was “basically a declaration of Abkhazia’s
independence” – an idea that Tbilisi refuses to countenance.
 
After Alasania presented his plan on May 24, Abkhaz foreign minister
Sergei Shamba said, “Having seen the Georgian plan, I don’t even see
where we could begin a conversation.” 
 
The Abkhaz plan was delivered a week earlier when the Georgian-Abkhaz
coordinating council for the conflict met in Tbilisi after a break of
more than four years. 
 
The document calls on Tbilisi to recognise Abkhazia’s independence, end
its economic blockade of the republic, apologise for previous policies,
and agree to a series of security measures and peaceful co-existence.
 
According to Shamba, who led the Abkhaz delegation at the Tbilisi
meeting, his government also envisages the return of all Georgian
refugees to the southern Gali region (called Gal by the Abkhaz) within
two years. 
 
“The blood that was shed is hindering the solution of problems,” said
Shamba, referring to the return of refugees. “Time heals things, and the
time will come when the issue of refugees returning to the whole of
Abkhazia will come onto the agenda”.
 
The contents of the Georgian plan, called a Road Map, have so far not
been revealed in public. 
 
Alasania, who is the Georgian president’s adviser on Abkhaz conflict
resolution, told the coordinating council that his government’s priority
was for the displaced Georgians – numbering about 250,000 – to go back
to Abkhazia. The next steps would be to rebuild mutual trust and ensure
security, with economic rehabilitation and the resolution of Abkhazia’s
political status coming only at the end of the process. 
 
Alasania said both peace plans would now be submitted to the Georgian
parliament. 
 
“Discussions on both schemes will take place behind closed doors, and
only once they have been compared will a common plan be made public,” he
said.
 
Prior to the new plans, there had been only one similar scheme for a
gradual resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict – the so-called
“Boden Plan”, drawn up under the supervision of Dieter Boden, a former
special representative of the United Nations Secretary General in
Georgia. 
 
The Boden Plan proposed a division of constitutional powers between
Sukhum and Tbilisi within a united federative state. The scheme was
supported in Tbilisi, but the Abkhaz side refused to accept the terms,
insisting on full sovereignty.
 
The latest plan from Bagapsh also has Abkhaz independence its a starting
point – a position which, as officials in his government admit, may mean
the Georgians refuse to discuss it.
 
“The document reflects the realities of the situation in Abkhazia,” the
head of the Abkhaz parliament’s budget and economic policy committee,
Ilya Gamisonia, told IWPR. “They are, of course, unacceptable for
Georgia, but they clearly state our country’s position in the conflict.”
 
The Bagapsh plan contains two new elements. On the first page, it
explicitly rejects the idea that Abkhazia’s future lies with Russia
alone, and declares that it lies instead with integration into Europe.
The document also proposes economic cooperation with Tbilisi. In recent
years, economic contacts have been limited to smuggling.
 
The document reads, “The processes of economic integration in the Black
Sea region, as well as prospects for a more intensive economic
cooperation on the regional level within the framework of the European
Union’s Neighbourhood Policy, can serve as guarantees for the sides’
adherence to the fundamental principles of good-neighbourliness.” 
 
This explicit mention of Europe and the Black Sea region, rather than
Russia, suggests a new line of thinking within Abkhazia. 
 
“All of us have a feeling that Abkhazia’s isolation is becoming a thing
of the past,” said writer Nadezhda Venediktova. “Despite all the
problems, we have no alternative to integration within Europe. We are
overcoming the view we inherited from our past that Europe is alien and
hostile to us. And so the fact that the authorities are talking about
integration with the Black Sea countries allows Abkhazia to look forward
more confidently.”
 
Georgian political analyst Paata Zakareishvili noted, “In actual fact,
the Abkhazians are already proposing rather interesting topics about
which we can hold a dialogue. The most important thing is that they are
ready to integrate into Europe without Russia. Actually, the Abkhazians
are saying: let Russia stay, but let’s neutralise its influence [on us]
with Europe.”
 
Referring to the idea of integration in the Black Sea region,
Zakareishvili said, “That’s an excellent proposal, the only minus being
that it’s not us who came up with it.”
 
Gamisonia and some other Abkhaz politicians agree that economic
cooperation could start irrespective of the pace of political
resolution. They say the sides could collaborate in environmental
matters, as well as on large-scale projects like restoring the rail link
from Russia to Georgia through Abkhazia.
 
However, some in Abkhazia warn that economic cooperation with Tbilisi
could present a danger as long as Abkhaz independence remains
unrecognised. 
 
“There are certain plans in Georgia to swallow up Abkhazia by economic
methods,” said Alyas Khajimba, a former activist for vice-president Raul
Khajimba but now in opposition to the new authorities. “And they talk
openly about it. That is why when we talk of the possibility of
establishing economic contacts, we’re drowning ourselves.”
 
Currently, the most pressing issue for both Tbilisi and Sukhum is what
happens if the peacekeeping force of the Commonwealth of Independent
States, CIS – in fact manned only by Russians – is withdrawn from
Abkhazia. That could happen if Georgia decides to leave the CIS as its
dispute with Russia escalates.
 
Bagapsh has warned that if the CIS soldiers are withdrawn, “We will
place the border with Georgia fully under the control of our armed
forces.”
 
Alasania said that if that happened, “We ought to strengthen joint
actions aimed at preventing possible provocative actions.”
 
He said discussions were already underway with the United Nations about
changing the peacekeeping mandate for Abkhazia. 
 
Although few expect an imminent breakthrough, the fact that two plans
have emerged at the same time after such a long gap has inspired some
hope.
 
“The documents are not a single package and should not be taken as a
whole; they need to be worked on,” said Paata Zakareishvili. “The
foundations for a dialogue have not been so favourable since 1997, when
the biggest achievements were made in the process. The main thing now is
to continue working and avoid spoiling everything.”
 
Anton Krivenyuk is a correspondent in Abkhazia for Panorama, the
Caucasian newspaper supported by IWPR. Sofo Bukia is a correspondent
with 24 Hours newspaper in Tbilisi. 
 

EU COULD ASSUME PEACEKEEPING ROLE
 
The European Union’s new special representative for the South Caucasus
sees an enhanced role for the EU in conflict resolution. 
 
By Thomas de Waal in London
 
The new European Union special representative for the Caucasus, Peter
Semneby, has suggested that the EU could in future lead a peacekeeping
mission if a solution to the Nagorny Karabakh dispute is found.  
 
Semneby, a Swedish diplomat who has just taken up the post, said in an
interview with IWPR in London last week that he wants to use his mandate
to work on the region’s unresolved conflicts.
 
“It’s no surprise that the main priority of my work is to engage as far
as possible with conflict resolution,” he said. 
 
Semneby emphasised that the European Union has no formal role in the
detailed negotiations over Abkhazia - where the United Nations plays a
mediating role – and in South Ossetia and Nagorny Karabakh, where that
role is played by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, OSCE.
 
However, the idea of an international peacekeeping force is known to be
under discussion in the current Karabakh talks, and should there be a
breakthrough, an international body will be asked to lead it. This is
where the EU could step in.
 
“We will be expected to make a major contribution when a solution is
found, and we are looking into the possibilities we have, both in terms
of post-conflict rehabilitation and also - if the parties should so
desire - in terms of contributing peacekeepers. And possibly even
leading a peacekeeping operation,” said Semneby. “I should mention that
this is very hypothetical at this stage. This is only one of several
options, but it’s one that is being considered.”
 
A recent report by the International Crisis Group entitled “Conflict
Resolution in the South Caucasus: The EU’s Role” was scathing about the
low profile the European Union has adopted on conflict resolution in the
Caucasus until now.
 
“[The EU] does not participate directly in negotiations on Nagorny
Karabakh, Abkhazia or South Ossetia,” said the report, published in
March.. “In and around Nagorny Karabakh, it has done little for conflict
resolution. It has rarely raised the South Caucasus conflicts in its
high-level discussions with partners and has employed few sanctions or
incentives to advance peace.”
 
A subtle change in language in the mandate assigned to Semneby, compared
with that of his predecessor Heikki Talvitie, means the EU special
representative is no longer asked to “assist the resolution of
conflicts” but to “contribute to the resolution of conflicts”. 
 
Semneby said this linguistic change was small but important, calling it
“a political signal that the conflicts are very high on the agenda”.
 
The post of special representative was established in 2003 and has a
broad mandate -but a small budget. Acknowledging that it would be
impossible to “engage across the board”, Semneby identified his major
priorities as contributing to peace processes and supporting
state-building in the region, through initiatives such as judicial
reform. 
 
Semneby, 46, has spent most of his career in Eastern Europe. As a
Swedish diplomat he visited the Armenian earthquake zone in 1988, and he
was a member of the first OSCE mission in Georgia in 1992. He also
served as the last OSCE ambassador to Latvia and more recently was the
organisation’s ambassador in Croatia – another post he says gives him
the right experience to engage with the conflict-riven Caucasus.
 
He confessed to a feeling of “deja vu” in returning to the region after
a long gap, “This is the most disappointing aspect of coming back to the
Caucasus after so many years. Of course there have been changes for the
better as well. But the conflicts are such an obstacle to the normal
development of societies in the Caucasus.” 
 
Semneby will be called upon to tackle the image problem the EU has in
the region, with lower visibility than the United States.
 
The special representative has to talk on behalf of 25 countries, many
of which have their own individual interests in the region. He
acknowledged that the failure to adopt an EU Union constitution, which
would have led to the development of a more coherent foreign policy, had
made his job harder.
 
However, with Bulgaria and Romania set to join the EU next year and
Turkey beginning membership talks, the South Caucasus will inevitably
begin to figure larger in Brussels.
 
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are all members of the EU’s European
Neighbourhood Policy, a development that Semneby said was deepening
their relationship with Brussels and would also entitle them to
increased aid. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of euros for
each country. The EU will also step up its representation in the
countries, which will mean there will be a larger degree of visibility
in the South Caucasus.” 
 
“I will also spend some time trying to explain to the public in the
South Caucasus what the EU is about. There is not a whole lot of
knowledge to begin with. To the extent that the EU is known, there are
still a lot of misunderstandings about what [it] is about.” 
 
“I think there is also lack of knowledge in the EU about the south
Caucasus and its particular problems and about the importance of this
region for the EU, and if possible this is something I would like to
engage on.”
 
Asked about the hopes of many people in the region who dream of joining
the EU one day, the special representative was careful to reiterate that
the European Neighbourhood Policy “does not contain a membership
perspective”.
 
“It does mean that the countries can achieve a lot of the benefits of EU
membership by working on the implementation of the European
Neighbourhood Policy,” he went on. 
 
“There is a problem - and I am the first to admit that - that since the
membership perspective is not there as a big carrot at the end, this
deprives us of one of the most powerful levers we had in encouraging the
countries of Central Europe to carry out painful reforms.”
 
Thomas de Waal is IWPR’s Caucasus Editor. 

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service provides the international community
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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2006 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 
 
CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
341

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