Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Georgia rejects key parts of peace plan for restive region


Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili rejected key elements of a German plan on Thursday aimed at ending a dangerous dispute with Russia over the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia.

Saakashvili told reporters after talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Georgia would not renounce the use of force in the conflict due to what he called incessant Russian provocations.

“As we speak there is a process of daily militarization of Abkhazia in front of the eyes of the international community,” he said. “If these kind of things continue to happen, talking about any kind of solutions will be very, very, very difficult.”

Steinmeier started a two-day trip in Georgia on Thursday that will also take him to Russia and Abkhazia in a bid to defuse a conflict that brought the region to the brink of war just months ago.

The German minister, whose country chairs the so-called UN Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Georgia, said the situation in Abkhazia was explosive and that “the spiraling violence must be stopped.”

He is aiming to thrash out a way forward based on a three-stage peace proposal drawn up by Berlin and presented to the three parties over the last week.

The first step of Berlin’s plan would entail an end to violence, confidence-building measures over the next year that could lead to the resumption of direct talks between Georgia and Abkhazia and the return of about 250,000 Georgian refugees to Abkhazia.

The second stage would involve developing joint reconstruction projects while the third and most difficult step would determine Abkhazia’s future status.

Steinmeier said he sought “a peaceful resolution based on the territorial integrity of Georgia” but said the West was deeply concerned about the recent escalation in the region.

“No one among us has any illusions. I am not here in the region to raise false hopes. But this deadlock must be broken,” he said.

German delegation sources said the talks with Saakashvili had been “difficult” but that the president had thanked Germany for its initiative and pledged Georgian cooperation in defusing the conflict.

Steinmeier spoke with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Abkhazia in the last week to prepare for the trip.

He was to travel yesterday to the region, where he was due to meet local leaders, before stopping in Moscow for talks with Lavrov and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

But speaking in Moscow on Thursday, Lavrov appeared to pour cold water on the German proposal, saying suggestions the agreement include the return of hundreds of thousands of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia were “unrealistic.”

And Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, whom Steinmeier was to meet yesterday, said this week he could not consider the plan, according to Russian news agencies.

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