Georgia and Abkhazia at loggerheads over the status of the self-proclaimed republic

The Georgian Government has offered to grant neighbouring Abkhazia ‘unlimited autonomy’, but the Abkhaz Government insists that the people of Abkhazia have already voted for independence and highlights the continuing Georgian military presence in the country.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has finally revealed details of the “peace proposal” announced in the last few days. The proposals seem surprisingly attractive for the Abkhazians: according to EUobserver, an Abkhazian would be offered the Georgian vice-presidency with the power to veto government decisions affecting the Abkhaz Republic, and a free trade zone would be created. “Unlimited autonomy, wide federalism, and very serious representation in the central governmental bodies of Georgia – all will be guaranteed [for Abkhazia]”, said Saakashvili on Saturday. Everything is up for discussion except the “disintegration of Georgia”, he clarified.

Abkhazia was quick to reject the peace proposal. The country has been a ‘de facto’ independent republic for over fifteen years, since the 1992-93 war. Russia Today reported the words of Abkhaz President Sergey Bagapsh’s reply: “Abkhazia is not accepting these proposals because we determined our status in a referendum. We can talk to Georgia about neighbouring relations and economic questions but when it comes to the status, this question cannot be discussed.

”Bagapsh also said that the Abkhazians are keen to set a date for the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Abkhazia, referring to the events of 2006 when Georgia sent military personnel into Abkhaz territory. Sabine Fraser, of International Crisis Group, has been following recent events and is reported to have said that Georgia should begin a peace proposal “without preconditions”, while Abkhazia “should be more flexible and take part in confidence-building measures”.

As Bagaphs has noted, the announcement of a peace proposal by the Georgian government coincides with the NATO summit in Bucharest that opens tomorrow and has Georgian membership on the agenda. Georgia is clearly hoping to convince the international community that the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are under control in order to allay the fears of its future NATO partners.

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