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Slow Progress Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

Annan Cites 'Slow Progress' But 'Cautious Optimism' On Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

Although progress in resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz separatist conflict in northwestern Georgia remains "painfully slow" 10 years after the United Nations established a mission there, Secretary-General Kofi Annan cites "reason for cautious optimism in the longer term" in his latest report on the issue.

But as in his previous report in January, Mr. Annan calls on the Abkhaz side to "seriously review its position" and take advantage of the changing political situation resulting from the election of a new Georgian Government to start "meaningful negotiations" on substantive issues.

"Disappointingly, there was no movement by the Abkhaz side on the core political question," he says, referring to its refusal to receive a paper on distributing "competences" between the two sides and its continued invocation of its unilateral "declaration of independence" of 1999.

The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), consisting of about 115 military observers monitoring the ceasefire lines and a civilian component, was established in 1994 after an accord reached in Moscow ended fighting that had forced nearly 300,000 people to flee.

Mr. Annan reports that UNOMIG continues to work on preparations for the "safe, dignified and sustainable return" of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees and will seek to build on incremental progress given the time needed for stabilization following the Georgian elections and the Abkhaz side's preoccupation with upcoming "presidential elections."

He calls on the Abkhaz side to permit the deployment of UNOMIG civilian police in the Gali sector, in line with its earlier commitments, to improve overall security - a necessary condition for the return of IDPs and refugees.

The Secretary-General also notes that the security of UNOMIG personnel continues to be a major concern and calls for "resolute action to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of criminal acts" against the mission, such as the downing of a Mission helicopter in the Kodori valley in 2001, in which nine people were killed, and the attack on a Mission bus in Sukhumi in 1998 in which four people were injured.

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