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EU Special Representative talks to Baghapsh and Shamba

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, March 15
The EU Special Representative in the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, met leaders of the Sokhumi regime Sergey Baghapsh and Sergey Shamba on March 13, primarily to discuss Abkhazian-EU relations and Georgia’s new strategic plan for the occupied parts of the country.

According to a recent report on Abkhazia by the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group (ICG), in December 2009 the EU’s Political and Security Committee agreed a " paper on the parameters of the EU’s non-recognition and engagement policy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia" aimed at carving out political and legal space within which the EU can interact with the breakaway regions “without crossing status red lines, thus emphasising a strategic interest to engage so as to increase its leverage to move conflict solution forward.” Semneby’s visit to breakaway Abkhazia can be considered a step towards starting work on this.

"I am confident that only by considering common interests it will finally be possible to normalise the situation in the region. This is the only way to resolve the difficult political issues that have not been resolved so far. The EU seeks to ensure that relations are improved,” Semneby said during the meeting, according to Apsnypress. However the de facto Abkhazian President and Prime Minister had a different view of how to improve relations. "If we are talking about improving relations, the first thing we should ensure is bilateral movement. In the same way you have come here, we should be able to go to European countries. Our young people should be able to go to Europe and get an education; businessmen should also be enabled to come here and set up businesses, not through Tbilisi but Europe. We won’t let them come here from Tbilisi. There should be two-way contacts and the procedure for issuing EU visas to Abkhaz citizens should be eased,” PM Shamba said, adding that democracy in Abkhazia is better than in Georgia. "Unlike Georgia, which is regarded in Europe as a democratic state, we have stable government and transitions of power take place democratically,” Shamba said.

The second key issue of the meeting was the new Georgian strategy for the occupied regions, confirmed by the Georgian Government on January 27, which states that contact with Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be restored only by peaceful means. The de facto region leaders said this document was absolutely unacceptable for them.

The Messenger asked Government representative Davit Darchiashvili how this new strategy will work if the de facto regimes show no interest in it. "No one has any illusion that the de facto regimes’ representatives will be attracted by this strategy, but this strategic plan is very much needed as there are people in those territories who need to have contacts with us. Realisation of the plan should be done step-by step. At the present moment our main aim is to get as many international organisations as possible involved in this process and the fact that Mr. Semneby has visited Abkhazia and discussed this issue is a very important and serious step forward for the strategy,” Darchiashvili said.

Analyst Zurab Abashidze told The Messenger "The EU insists on the non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but at the same time wants dialogue with them. Their attitude is acceptable for me and might work as well. This visit to Abkhazia can be considered positive. As for the strategic document, such a reaction was expected from the occupied regions' leaders, but the document has the right to exist. Of course it would have been better for such a document to be adopted earlier, but let's see, some positives might emerge from it,” Abashidze said.