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Cabinet session follows with initiatives

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, February 8
The Georgian Cabinet approved of the changes in the Law on Occupied Territories; the proposed bill will be sent to Parliament for consideration. Minister of Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili said after the cabinet session on Thursday that a person illegally crossing the border between Georgia and the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the first time will be fined and only in case of repeated violations will they be criminally prosecuted. The Minister explained that many foreigners who used to shorten their trips home by crossing the border were sentenced to a year in Georgian prison, which he described as "unjust".

However he said the amount of the fine will make a person think twice before crossing the border.

United National Movement (UNM) MP Nugzar Tsiklauri discouraged the idea calling it “the policy of concession.” Tsiklauri said the crossing of any border between Georgia and the occupied territories is a criminal offense. The oppositional representative said that by taking such a step the Georgian government is expressing their “mild” policy towards the Abkhazians, South Ossetians and the Russian Federation citizens.

However, Georgian Dream MP Irakli Sesiashvili welcomed the initiative. He said the new bill divides responsibility in two stages. Sesiashvili explained that foreigners (entering Georgia) who may not be familiar with Georgian legislation but accidentally venture into the occupied territories should not be detained.

One of the 34 issues discussed during the government session referred to the possible restorian of the Georgian churches of Mokvi, Ilori and Bedia on Abkhazian territory. Minister Zakareishvili thinks that Georgia should enlist experts from UNESCO in this process. “We should use this route because the churches are unique.” Zakareishvili stated.

The de-facto President of Abkhazia Alexander Ankvab recently stated that reconstruction of the three above mentioned churches will soon begin.

Minister of Culture and Monument Protection Guram Odisharia said the Georgian government had earlier suggested restoring these churches in cooperation with the Abkhazians; however, the process was postponed. Stressing the necessity for engaging UNESCO in the process, Odisharia plans to address Abkhazian colleagues about this matter.

Odisharia said Georgians and Abkhazians built the churches together; this is why they should be restored with joint effort. “When I saw Ilori for the first time it looked like a restaurant,” the Minister said adding that Mokvi and Bedia have not yet been touched but remain in a seriously damaged condition. “We are willing to cooperate with them [the Abkhazians] over this issue as well as requesting European specialists to assist us.” Odisharia stated.

The project “Village Support Program” was also approved by the Cabinet on Thursday. The Cabinet also discussed the new procedures and criteria for approval of projects provided by the state budget, projects financed by the Regional Projects' Fund, as well as municipal and regional government projects. Those individuals responsible for program implementation, coordination and monitoring must ensure transparent and efficient use of funds.

Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure Davit Narmania said the Village Support Program will subsidize small farmers and on the other hand give local governments an opportunity to carry out relevant wide-scale infrastructural projects they find necessary for regional development.