Germany presents 3-stage Abkhazia plan in Georgia

The five powers acting under the umbrella of the United Nations Secretary-General -- Germany, Britain, France, the United States and Russia reached a "basic understanding" on Steinmeier's plan.

Germany presents 3-stage Abkhazia plan in Georgia

Germany on Thursday presented a three-stage plan aimed at ending deadlock in Georgia's conflict with its breakaway province of Abkhazia, one of the most dangerous and intractable crises in the former Soviet Union.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier flew to Georgia on Thursday amid Western worries the conflict could spiral into war and destabilise a region developing into a key energy link from the Caspian Sea to Europe, bypassing Russia.

"The main component of the plan is starting a direct dialogue," Steimeier told a news briefing after talks with Georgian Foreign Minister Yekaterina Tkeshelashvili.

Black Sea coast Abkhazia and the region of South Ossetia both broke away after wars in early 1990s. Bringing them back is the priority task of Tbilisi's pro-Western government. Georgia accuses former Soviet master Russia of stoking the conflict and seeking to annex both regions. Moscow rejects the charges and accuses Tbilisi of trying to seize Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force.

In the past months the dispute escalated as both sides traded accusations of military build-up on the borders.

Steinmeier said the standoff was "in a hopeless state now" but "we will do our best to persuade them to solve the conflict peacfully."

The three stages of his plan include returning Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, arranging economic recovery programmes in the province and finally deciding its future status.

"Based on this plan we should find a way out. You will have strong support from the European Union," Steinmeier said, adding that he had discussed the plan with EU leaders.

Steinmeier will also meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and fly on Friday to Abkhazia for talks with separatist leaders there. He is due to go on to Moscow to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Tkeshelashvili cautiously backed the plan, but made clear Tbilisi was unhappy about some of its elements.

"There are good elements in the plan," she said. "But there are also certain issues viewed as important by Georgia, which we discussed frankly."

Georgian officals have said Tbilisi, which seeks to replace Russian peacekeepers in the region with a Western force, wants the plan to explicitly name Moscow as part of the conflict.

They also want the plan to spell out clearly that Abkhazia should remain part of Georgia whatever its future status.

"No preconditions"

The five powers acting under the umbrella of the United Nations Secretary-General -- Germany, Britain, France, the United States and Russia -- met in Berlin at the end of June and reached a "basic understanding" on Steinmeier's plan, the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.

But on Thursday, Lavrov attacked what he said were "absolutely unrealistic" demands by the West, to link the signing of a commitment by Georgia and Abkhazia not to use force to agreement on a document about the return of around 260,000 ethnic Georgian refugees to Abkhazia.

"We are convinced that the signing -- without any conditions -- of an agreement not to use force is the absolutely inescapable first step," Lavrov told reporters.

Further complicating the search for a solution, diplomats in Moscow said the status quo in Abkhazia suits Russia very well.

"They like Abkhazia being a thorn in the side of the Georgian leadership but don't want to be drawn into recognising Abkhazia because that would create uncomfortable precedents for separatist regions inside Russia," one diplomat said.

Reuters

Last Mod: 18 Temmuz 2008, 08:24
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