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Georgia's New President Assures of Abkhazia Peace

Georgia's New President Assures Security Council Of Commitment To Peace In Abkhazia

Pledging his unwavering commitment to the peaceful resolution of the separatist conflict in Abkhazia, Georgia's new President Mikhail Saakashvili appealed to the United Nations Security Council today to enhance its efforts to advance lasting peace and stability in his country.

To promote that process, Mr. Saakashvili told the 15-member body he was ready to guarantee the highest possible degree of autonomy to Abkhazia within the Georgian State.

The UN has maintained an observer mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) since 1994 after an accord reached in Moscow ended fighting in northwestern Georgia between government and separatist forces that forced nearly 300,000 refugees to flee.

Today, Georgia still suffers from the painful wounds of civil conflict that had separated families and destroyed the future of a generation, President Saakashvili said. But encouraged by certain positive developments, task forces established in the framework of the Geneva process might form a powerful mechanism for the entire peace process, he added.

The framework involves the so-called Group of Friends of the Secretary-General - France, Germany, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States - working to help achieve peace. At a meeting last week, attended by Georgia but not the Abkhaz side, the group hailed progress in political and security matters, refugee returns and economic cooperation.

Mr. Saakashvili called the deployment of a civilian UN police unit in the Gali region, on the Abkhaz side of the ceasefire lines, a real and positive step forward that should be fully implemented. It was particularly necessary for the return of refugees, he added.

He appealed to the Council to work towards ending the "damaging" Russian policies of providing citizenship to people in the conflict region, granting a visa-free regime and illegally acquiring property on Abkhazian soil, all of which reduced chances for lasting security. At the same time, he said his recent "very constructive" talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin signalled a new era of improved relations between the two countries.

In his latest report to the Council last month Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that talks on Abkhazia's future status within Georgia had still not started, with the Abkhaz side continuing to invoke its unilateral 1999 "declaration of independence." He appealed to them to abandon their "uncompromising position."

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