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Abkhazia peace process to flounder if no progress made on status issue: Annan

Abkhazia peace process to flounder if no progress made on status issue: Annan

Despite the recent progress made in building confidence between both sides in the conflict over Abkhaz, Georgia, the country's peace process will derail if the proposals for the distribution of competencies between the two parties are not forthcoming, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns in his latest report on the issue.

According to the report, which was issued today at United Nations Headquarters in New York, the mandate given to the Secretary-General's Special Representative to put forward, together with the group of Friends, proposals for the distribution of competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi has not yet been implemented. That lack of progress, the report warns, could eventually jeopardize the entire peace process.

"The attitude of blanket rejection adopted by the Abkhaz side is short-sighted and will prove, in the long run, to be counterproductive," Mr. Annan writes. "Progress on the matter is attainable. I appeal to all concerned to clear the way for the start of meaningful talks aimed at defining the status of Abkhazia within the State of Georgia."

Calling the confidence-building meeting held in Yalta last month "an indispensable element of the peace process," the Secretary-General says the agreements reached there were "particularly timely" because the number and diversity of direct bilateral contacts in various fields have grown considerably in the past year. He urged both sides to implement the pledges made at the meeting.

On the flare-ups of violence between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides in the Gali region since January, the Secretary-General warns that such incidents should not be accepted as "part of the natural course of things," but should be addressed directly, making full use of all available mechanisms. He calls on both sides to implement fully the obligations they undertook on 16 April, when they signed a protocol agreeing to verify the physical conditions of those held in their custody, to transfer all detainees to the custody of official structures, and to hand over the bodies of those killed.

The report also reminds both sides in the conflict of the pledges they made to ensure the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

On the issue of the safety of UN peacekeepers, Mr. Annan says violations of the freedom of movement of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) - in particular failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of hostage-taking incidents - are "not acceptable." The report appeals to both sides to observe the provisions of the 1994 Agreement on a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces.

The decade-long conflict in Abkhazia, strategically located on the Black Sea in the northwestern region of Georgia, takes its root in the desire by Abkhaz authorities to separate from the Republic of Georgia. The mandate of the UN observers there is to monitor implementation of the 1994 ceasefire agreement.