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Georgia-Abkhaz conflict must not be allowed to simmer, Annan says, urging talks

Georgia-Abkhaz conflict must not be allowed to simmer, Annan says, urging talks

The Georgian-Abkhaz conflict must not be allowed to simmer, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report to the Security Council, urging both sides to hold talks aimed at resolving their fundamental differences.

"The early launching of an active negotiating process, addressing the core issue of the future status of Abkhazia within the State of Georgia, and full compliance with existing agreements and protocols, are urgently required," Mr. Annan writes in his report, which was issued today. He also recommends that the "Coordinating Council" - a mechanism for regular contact between the two sides which has not met for over a year - should convene soon to tackle pressing issues relating to security, the return of displaced persons and economic rehabilitation.

The Secretary-General says his Special Representative, Dieter Boden, has made "strenuous efforts" to foster talks between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides on the basis of a paper on the distribution of competences and a transmittal letter. "The two parties should, as soon as possible, address and resolve the key political issues between them," Mr. Annan emphasizes. He calls in particular on the Abkhaz side to agree to enter into negotiations on the basis of the paper, calling it "the best available means by which to advance their legitimate concerns."

On the security situation, the Secretary-General says the continuing presence of Georgian troops in the upper Kodori Valley, in violation of the Moscow Agreement, has been a major source of tension and distrust. "Georgia claims that it has now withdrawn those troops," he notes, calling on the country to facilitate an independent verification through regular patrols of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force.

Mr. Annan also voices regret over the lack of progress on the return of internally displaced persons. "I call in particular upon the Abkhaz side to start moving this process forward," he says.

The report also raises concern regarding the safety of UNOMIG staff. "Both sides have the responsibility to ensure security for the Mission at all times and to allow UNOMIG to return to its full operational capacity," the Secretary-General emphasizes.

The Mission's operations have been restricted since a UN helicopter was shot down last October. Noting that investigations of that incident are being carried out, Mr. Annan says the perpetrators must be brought to justice.