President Saakashvili on March 28 unveiled a series of proposals to resolve the Abkhaz conflict, including a joint free economic zone, Abkhaz representation in central government and an Abkhaz vice-president with the right to veto Abkhaz-related decisions.
Saakashvili was speaking at a meeting with scholars and civil society and media representatives working on issues related to the conflicts. The meeting, which was hosted by the influential Tbilisi-based think-tank Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS), was also attended by opposition lawmaker Ivliane Khaindrava from the Republican Party.
Saakashvili’s new initiative is mainly in line with Tbilisi’s proposals unveiled in June, 2006. It has, however, a more economic focus than the previous one.
Free Economic Zone
President Saakashvili proposed the creation of a joint Georgian-Abkhaz free economic zone in the breakaway region’s Ochamchire and Gali districts.
“We, Tbilisi and Sokhumi, should together open great [free] economic zones without the participation of others, which will be controlled by Georgian and the de facto Abkhazian authorities,” Saakashvili said. “Of course, a free economic zone envisages freedom, more freedom and less control. I propose using empty Ochamchire and Gali for a free economic zone. Ochamchire has a port, which is very important for this purpose. Both Gali and Ochamchire have huge territories, which are absolutely unoccupied. We propose to immediately launch negotiations on the economic development of this territory.”
Georgia plans to set up a free economic zone in the port of Poti and on 400 hectares of adjacent land, not far from Abkhazia.
Post of Vice-President
President Saakashvili said that the Abkhaz side should be represented in “all bodies of the Georgian central authorities.”
“We offer them the position of vice-president of Georgia and we offer them the right to veto all those decisions by the central authorities which concern or will concern their constitutional status, as well as all important preconditions related with the preservation and further development of their culture, language and ethnicity,” Saakashvili said. “They will have guaranteed representation in all bodies of the Georgian government. This is an unusual move. We are ready to discuss it in the nearest weeks as soon as the negotiations are launched and solve these constitutional issues together. I am sure that all representatives of the Georgian parliament, both of the sitting and the future ones, will join us in this drive.”
The Georgian constitution does not envisage a vice-presidential post.
Unspecified Security Guarantees
President Saakashvili said that Tbilisi was also ready to offer Sokhumi, as he put it, “many other security guarantees.” He gave no further details.
He, however, said: “Our law enforcement structures should merge gradually, without any haste. We should create a joint customs-border space and naturally we should provide full autonomy on the ground.”
Sokhumi has been insisting that Tbilisi sign a treaty on the non-use of force as a security guarantee. President Saakashvili, however, said on March 15 that Georgia would not do so.
President Saakashvili said that Tbilisi’s proposal amounted to “unlimited autonomy” and added that the Georgian side had “never offered as much as we are doing now.”
“There are no issues, which we and the Abkhazians could not solve through negotiations, except for Georgia’s disintegration – I want to stress this,” he said. “All other issues – unlimited autonomy, wide federalism and very serious representation in the central governmental bodies of Georgia – will be guaranteed, with the participation and support of international guarantors.”
Alternative for Abkhazia
Saakashvili said that Tbilisi’s proposal was an alternative to “an obscure and risky future” that both Georgians and Abkhazians may face if they fail to come to an agreement.
He also indicated that Russia was using Abkhazia as a pawn in its geopolitical games and said: “I think Abkhazians has now guessed that Russia is not planning to recognize Abkhazia.” Instead, he said, Russia was planning to send 50,000 ethnic Russians to Abkhazia, where, as Saakashvili said, only 40,000 or 45,000 ethnic Abkhazians remained.
“If we work on these [referring to Tbilisi’s proposals] issues, I am sure that the ice will melt,” Saakashvili said. “Otherwise, we and the Abkhazians, all of Georgia, including the Abkhazians, will face an obscure and risky future. We should do our best to ensure that the interests of this little nation do not become the victim of a great geopolitical game, as well as to avoid its physical, spiritual and cultural existence being questioned. These people should feel that Georgia is not a problem for them. Georgia helps them to save and develop their nation.”
Russia, a Party in the Conflict
He called on Russia to act as a genuine mediator and not as a party in the conflict.
“I ask the Russian Federation to get involved in this process, although Russia is not a mediator today; it is a party in the conflict,” Saakashvili said. “We ask them [the Russian side] to move from being a party in the conflict towards becoming a mediator in the conflict. I have clearly indicated and told the UN Secretary General [Ban Ki-moon] that the current [peacekeeping] format is unacceptable. We should all work to radically change this format.