In his New Year’s address to the country and a follow-up news conference for foreign and national media, President Eduard Shevardnadze stated that "failing significant progress soon" toward a political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, he would call for an international "peace enforcement operation in Abkhazia on the Bosnian model." The Russian operation did stop the combat almost four years ago, but has since failed to facilitate the return of Georgian expellees and a political resolution of the conflict, Shevardnadze pointed out. He said he would raise this issue at the upcoming summit of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and would also turn to the "Friends of Georgia" group of Western countries, the OSCE, the UN, and the CIS for more active support in 1998.
Shevardnadze outlined a timetable for the full restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity until the year 2000, within his current term of office. He also renewed the long-standing offer of autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within the framework of a federalized Georgia. (Georgian radio, Prime-News, Russian agencies, December 31-January 3)
As the mediator between Abkhazia and Georgia’s central government, Moscow has condoned Abkhazia’s rejection of a federal solution. Last July and December the leading Western powers, acting as observers, attended two rounds of Russian-mediated negotiations and accepted Russia into the Friends of Georgia group, renaming the latter "the Friends of the UN Secretary General." Furthermore, Washington and other Western capitals have advised Georgia against exercising its right to terminate the Russian "peacekeeping" operation. Western verbal support for, and economic involvement in, Georgia are growing, but are not yet being matched by effective diplomatic support, let alone by readiness to organize a genuine peacekeeping operation any time soon.
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