Saakashvili offers ‘unlimited autonomy’ for Abkhaz
By Eter Tsotniashvili
Monday, March 31
President Mikheil Saakashvili offered “unlimited autonomy” and a free economic zone for Abkhaz in a March 28 speech setting out his administration’s new conflict resolution proposals. Separatist officials spurned the initiatives as empty offers to please Western capitals ahead of a NATO summit.
Saakashvili promised the breakaway region’s leadership top executive posts in the Georgian government to protect the culture and interests of the “small nation” of Abkhaz.
“We offer them the post of vice president of Georgia and the right to veto all the important issues about the constitutional status of the region… We also offer them guaranteed representation in all bodies of the Georgian administration,” Saakashvili said in a talk at Tbilisi’s Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.
He ruled out an independent Abkhazia as an “illusion” punctured by Russia’s apparent decision not to formally recognize the breakaway region.
Saakashvili pitched a jointly-controlled free economic zone in Abkhazia.
“We, Tbilisi and Sokhumi, without any other sides, should open a huge free economic zone under control of the de facto Abkhazian and Georgian authorities,” he said, offering to cooperate on creating the zone over the Abkhazian port town Ochamchire and the southern district of Gali.
This is the most the Georgian government has formally offered the Abkhaz separatists, the president said. Sokhumi rejected the overtures as “propaganda” meant to bolster Georgia’s odds for a Membership Action Plan at the NATO summit in Bucharest.
“This is propaganda before Bucharest summit. Georgia tries to portray itself, in the eyes of NATO member countries, as a country that loves peace,” Abkhazia’s de facto president, Sergey Bagapsh, told Russian news agency Interfax on March 29.
Abkhazia will continue to pursue recognition of its independence, he said.
The Abkhaz rejection doused Saakashvili’s offer of immediate talks on the proposals.
“Lack of negotiations, in most cases due to the influence of external factors, is the main problem and main reason for the situation being in deadlock,” Saakashvili stated. “There are no issues we cannot solve with Abkhazia through negotiations, other than the disintegration of Georgia [by Abkhazian independence].” Saakashvili asked Russia, which he said is a party in the conflict rather than a mediator, to get involved in the peace process. The offers come after Saakashvili said he would unveil new “radical proposals” for conflict resolution following a March 18 meeting with the UN secretary-general in New York.