asiaNet Q & A
EurasiaNet: What is UNOMIG's function in Georgia?
Van Hoye: The UN plays a dual role in the post-conflict situation: the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Georgia (SRSG) - currently Mr. Dieter Boden serves in this capacity - is simultaneously the chairman of the political peace process and head of the observer mission, which is tasked to monitor and verify compliance with the Moscow Agreement as well as observe the operations of the CIS peacekeeeping force. The UN's engagement rests upon two basic principles for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict: 1) Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity; 2) the safe, secure and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their places of previous permanent residence in Abkhazia, Georgia.
EurasiaNet: You refer to "Abkhazia, Georgia." Is that expression deliberately chosen rather than, for example, speaking simply of "Abkhazia"?
Van Hoye: Yes, the purpose is to clarify that although the Abkhaz side and the Georgian side participate as co-equal parties in the context of negotiations, nevertheless, from the international standpoint, and in light of the diplomatic history of their treaty relations, the U.N. does not consider that they enjoy equal juridical status.
EurasiaNet: What role can the U.N. constructively play if official Sukhumi continues to maintain that it represents Abkhazia as an independent state?
Van Hoye: The Abkhaz side will have to be made to accept that, notwithstanding its unilateral declaration of independence in 1994, the status question is an open-ended issue, and one that should be solved based on the inviolable principle of Georgia's territorial integrity, firmly adhered to by UN member states and thus unlikely to change. There are signs that the Abkhaz leadership has come to realize this in the end. Following President Putin's reaffirmation of support for this solid UN principle, Mr. [Anri] Jergenia, de facto Abkhaz Prime Minister, on 14 October, proposed "associate membership" with Russia.
EurasiaNet: What would that entail?
Van Hoye: It would include the following elements: a common state frontier which would be commonly guarded, common border and customs posts, and common decisions on economic (common currency) and security matters. Mr. Jergenia clarified that the intention is not to enter the Russian Federation as a federative subject; instead the new relationship with Russia would rather amount to a confederative model. Mr. Jergenia also indicated that such an arrangement would not be in contradiction with the Abkhaz Constitution, because its independence would remain intact and Abkhazia would remain a subject of international law and possibly become a member of the United Nations Organization and other international organizations. Reportedly, he seeks to apply the model of association between the US and the Marshall Islands.
EurasiaNet: What is the significance of this apparent shift?
Van Hoye: It is interesting to observe that under the term of "confederation" the Abkhaz leadership is willing to grant the Russian Federation a number of competences which, up until now, it had been unwilling to concede under the same heading to Georgia. Such a proposal demonstrates that the Abkhaz position on the status issue is more flexible than they would like the international community to believe. This is a point which we should keep in mind for any future negotiations on this issue.
EurasiaNet: What will be the context for those negotiations?
Van Hoye: The SRSG Dieter Boden has, on the basis of Security Council Resolution 1255 of 30 July 1999, worked out a draft paper on the distribution of competences between Tbilisi and Sukhumi which envisages the political status of Abkhazia within the State of Georgia. At his request, this paper - which serves as a basis to launch meaningful negotiations and is by no means intended to impose a solution upon the parties-has to find full agreement among the Group of Friends of the Secretary - General for Georgia (including its Coordinator, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) before it will be presented to the sides. The "Friends" continue to disagree on some aspects of the paper. This has again become apparent during the latest Security Council Session in New York on 30 October where the SRSG was asked to brief the Security Council members about progress on the status question. At the same time, it could be seen that a compromise solution among the Friends is reachable, so that the status element may finally be added to the negotiation package.
EurasiaNet: How would you summarize the prospects for settlement, based upon the most recent events?
Van Hoye: Mr. Boden visited Sukhumi on 25 September prior to his departure to New York for the Security Council session. He discussed the possible resumption of work within the so-called Geneva peace process mechanisms (Coordinating Council and its three Working Groups, as well as Confidence-Building Measures). The Abkhaz leadership, however, made it very clear that it is premature to talk about any political dialogue, as long as troops of the Georgian Ministry of Defence are stationed, in violation of the 1994 Moscow Agreement, in the Upper Kodori Valley.
UNOMIG applies all efforts to get the peace process back on track following the Kodori clashes. One should realize, however, that this process may take time now that both sides currently have to grapple with domestic discontent. On 31 October Mr. Jergenia went through hot times during the no-confidence vote in the de facto Abkhaz parliament, which he survived, whereas President Shevardnadze dismissed the entire government on 1 November in the wake of the flopped raid on the independent popular TV-channel, Rustavi 2 by Georgian Security forces.