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Abkhazia refuses to return refugees to their homes

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, March 24
The return of all Georgian refugees to Abkhazia could start a new war in the region, says leader of the Abkhazian separatist Government Sergey Baghapsh.

Speaking to Russian journalists on March 21, Baghapsh stated that the Abkhazian de facto Government has already started to return ethnic Georgians to the Gali region of Abkhazia, however Sokhumi will not agree to the return of all refugees.

“It’s simple arithmetic. You can check how many Serbs returned to Kosovo - only about 5,000. The total number of those who left was 150,000. We have returned 55,000 [Georgians] out of a total of 240,000. If we speak honestly we just can’t return all the refugees to Abkhazia because it will start a new war,” stated Baghapsh.

The separatist leader also has his own ideas on how to solve the problem of those who had to leave Abkhazia in the early 90s after a previous conflict. “We propose another thing to the international community – let’s stop providing weapons to Saakashvili: they have done it once already and take a look at the results. I consider that this money should be directed to refugees in order to integrate them into Georgian society. That will be a correct, humane and civilized step and we support this kind of initiative,” said the de facto Abkhazian President.

The Georgian side has already made a comment on Baghapsh’s statement. The head of the de jure Tbilisi-backed Abkhazian Government-in-Exile Malkhaz Akishbaia has said that refusing to give refugees the right to return is a “criminal act.” “No one has any illusion that refugees can be returned to Abkhazia under the conditions that exist there now. A lot should be done before the start of this process and the international community has stated this in many resolutions. The region should be demilitarized and international observers should be given the possibility of performing their duties in Abkhazia. Only after this can we start returning people step by step,” said Akishbaia, interview by the Georgian Rustavi 2 TV channel.

Several days before the interview Baghapsh had also refused to hold any kind of negotiations with the Georgian Government on any issue, including the refugee question. “The Government of Abkhazia is not going to negotiate with the Saakashvili regime. We’re building an independent and democratic state and we’re not going to stop doing this whatever it takes,” said Baghapsh.

Georgian conflict expert Malkhaz Chemia, speaking to The Messenger on March 23, stated that pursuing confrontation is a wrong decision for Georgia which will not lead to the solving of the refugee problem. “The only way to make the Abkhazian [de facto] Government accept Georgians back is to normalize relations and turn Georgia into a country attractive for both Georgians and Abkhazians. Sergey Baghapsh, unlike Kokoity [head of the South Ossetian separatist Government] is not happy to make statements like this, as he knows that Abkhazia is now in danger of total annexation and the Abkhazian people is about to become extinct under pressure from Russia.

In private conversations many high-ranking [de facto] officials in Sokhumi protest against the Russian invasion and understand that Moscow needs this region only because of its military bases,” said the expert, adding that despite the fact that Georgia doesn’t seem to have “good cards” in the current situation it is still possible to find some kind of compromise that will suit both sides.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Georgian breakaway provinces which declared themselves independent in the early 90’s. Bloodshed caused by confrontation between separatist forces and Georgian troops followed. The conflict was frozen for more than 15 years with Russian soldiers undertaking a peacekeeping operation in the region. The 90’s conflict left several thousand killed and about 300,000 people, mostly of Georgian ethnicity, being forced to leave the breakaway regions.

In August 2009, after the Russian-Georgian war, Moscow recognized the independence of both regions. This step was strongly condemned by the international community. Tbilisi has declared the regions “occupied territories” with Russia as the occupier.