Officials from the Georgian and Abkhaz sides hailed the first session of the recently reinstated Coordinating Council in Tbilisi on May 15 and said that this negotiating format offers the chance for regular meetings between the sides.
Foreign Minister of breakaway Abkhazia Sergey Shamba and Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava both participated in the meeting, which was held under the auspices of the UN and which was attended by ambassadors from the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends - involving Germany, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
“This [Georgian-Abkhaz Coordinating Council] is a very important initiative, which was supported by both sides, and today we see the results [of this initiative]. We think that intensification of our relations and our contacts in a bilateral format and regularity of these relations is the basis for making progress in the peace process. I want to thank our [Abkhaz] colleagues for their prompt response and for travelling to Tbilisi,” Georgian State Minister Giorgi Khaindrava said at a news conference after the meeting.
The Georgian-Abkhaz Coordinating Council, which last gathered in 2001, was set up in 1997 to deal with security related issues, return of refugees and displaced persons, and economic and social issues. Three working groups were also set up in frames of the Council to address these three directions.
The Georgian and Abkhaz sides agreed to resume the Council after talks between Georgian President’s aide for Abkhaz issues Irakli Alasania and Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba in Sokhumi in March, 2006.
The sides agreed during the May 15 meeting in Tbilisi to regularly hold meetings of these working groups. Sokhumi, Zugdidi and Gali will be the venues for the meetings.
The sides agreed that the meeting of the first working group, which deals with security issues, will be held in Gali on May 30; the second working group which addresses issues related with IDPs will meet in Sokhumi on June 5 and members of the third working group on social and economic issues will gather in Zugdidi on May 22.
“We have discussed a broad range of issues which are on the agenda and we have agreed on a concrete agenda and timetable for those working groups, which are in frames of the Coordinating Council, so that they may deal with these issues. This format gives us the opportunity to meet more often and more regularly and to solve ongoing issues, because we are not standing still, the process is ongoing, everyday issues are emerging which need a prompt response and a solution,” Giorgi Khaindrava said.
Foreign Minister of breakaway Abkhazia Sergey Shamba said that the meeting was productive.
“Those issues discussed today were well-prepared in advance for this kind of a constructive dialogue and for their approval. So we had no serious controversies about the issues which were on the agenda. They [the issues] just need more improvement and we have instructed the working groups to work over them,” Sergey Shamba said at a news conference after the meeting.
Both Khaindrava and Shamba said that issues related with the return of IDPs are very complicated.
“The 1994 agreement envisages a gradual solution to this problem and it [the document] calls [for the return of IDPs] in the Gali district first of all. Now we are engaged in this primary task, which is not yet accomplished but which we think is not our fault. We might have disagreements over this issue, but at the same time we have certain progress in this regard as well. With the assistance of UNHCR - who has an action plan which we are ready to implement. The working group which will gather in June will work over implementation of this plan,” Shamba said.
He said that “the the UNHCR-developed strategic plan” over return the of IDPs in the Gali district is “a two-year program.”
During the meeting the Abkhaz side handed Sokhumi's peace plan, which was proposed in early May by Abkhaz leader Sergey Shamba, over to the Georgian side.
Shamba said that the Abkhaz-proposed peace plan is Sokhumi’s vision of “our [Georgian, Abkhaz] peaceful coexistence.”
“We think that there are issues, which we can start to discuss today and on which we can find mutual understanding on. We also understand that not all the issues put forth in this plan will be understood by the Georgian leadership and society, but we are ready to work over them gradually - we understand that this is a long-term process. We have wasted too much time during confrontations. We should pave the way for mutual confidence. And we think that some major aspects of this peace plan give the possibility for this kind of movement,” Shamba said.
Georgian State Minister Giorgi Khaindrava said that the development of peace plans by both sides should be regarded as a positive step.
“The most important thing is that there is a position and a willingness to create, to develop plans which will give the chance to jointly resolve the conflict. Of course, at this stage we do not expect any sensational decisions over this issue, but the fact that Mr. Shamba has brought the document [the Abkhaz-proposed peace plan] to Tbilisi [should be welcomed]. We will study this document very thoroughly. You know that we [the Georgian side] are also preparing a so called 'roadmap' [for the resolution of the Abkhaz conflict]… I have not had the chance to thoroughly study this document [the Abkhaz-proposed peace plan] yet, I have just looked through it and I can say that there are issues which can be regarded as a basis for mutual understanding,” Khaindrava said.
Khaindrava said that Tbilisi’s Abkhaz conflict peace plan will be “a list of those measures which will help resolve” the conflict.
“I hope that we will be able to move our position closer to each other, which will give us the possibility to say that we have found a joint way to solve problems,” Khaindrava said.
The next session of the resumed Coordinating Council is scheduled for 17 July 2006 in Sukhumi.