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No deals as usual in Gali

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, December 9
A lot of important topics were discussed but no decisions made during the routine meeting in the Abkhazian town of Gali between representatives of the Georgian and Russian authorities and de facto Abkhazian officials on Tuesday.

This meeting was conducted as part of the Incident Prevention Mechanism agreed by the sides of the conflict in Geneva in early 2009. These meetings have been conducted regularly near the administrative borders of Georgian breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however with little outcome.

“We were unable to reach any agreement; however we discussed a number of serious problems, including issues of crossing the administrative border. The Abkhazian side and the Russian occupiers are sealing the 'border', and after this process is finished they will supposedly leave several passes. We also discussed violations of human rights,” stated Levan Tevzaia, who represented the de jure, Tbilisi-backed Abkhazian Government-in-Exile at the meeting.

Spokesperson of the Georgian Interior Ministry Shota Utiashvili also confirmed that the process of sealing the administrative border is now underway. “Unfortunately the [Russian] occupiers are building a wall of barbed wire near Otobaia village,” stated Utiashvili soon after the meeting. He also noted that these negotiations will be the last conducted in 2009, the next round being scheduled for January 20, 2010.

Similar Incident Prevention Mechanism meetings in the other Georgian breakaway region, South Ossetia, were suspended indefinitely on the request of the de facto South Ossetian authorities in November 2009. They accuse Georgia of the “illegal detention” of their residents and refuse to hold further meetings before their release. Tbilisi denies possessing any information about those individuals, classifying them as “missing.”

Answering a question from The Messenger Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner noted in early December that “only the resolution of old problems” can reactivate the Incident Prevention Mechanism.

“Investigations into three [missing Ossetians] and also into the other [cases of missing persons] cannot just be done in a routine manner; there is a need to do these in a credible manner, and I have suggested international oversight so that the results of these investigations can be believed and be credible to all sides,” Hammarberg said. He noted that this proposal for international oversight was accepted by Tbilisi during his negotiations with Georgian authorities. Hammarberg added that given the amount of time elapsed he fears that the missing Ossetians may no longer be alive.