Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 59

President Eduard Shevardnadze yesterday warned a visiting Russian Duma delegation that Georgia may terminate Russia’s "peacekeeping" operation in Abkhazia if Moscow rejects Tbilisi’s proposals to change the troops’ mandate at the March 28 CIS summit. Presidential plenipotentiary for conflict settlement Irakly Machavariani elaborated that Tbilisi envisages an enlargement of both the area and the mission of the Russian troops. They would be mainly required to ensure the security of Georgian refugees returning to their homes in Abkhazia up to the Galidzga river (which separates Abkhazia’s Gali and Ochamchira districts). Shevardnadze and Machavariani also raised the issue of adding non-Russian troops to the nominally CIS but in fact purely Russian contingent. They also suggested a role for additional countries — by implication the "Friends of Georgia" group led by the U.S. and Germany — in the political negotiations on Abkhazia’s status. (Interfax, March 24)

The amended mandate would entail the troops’ redeployment inside Abkhazia, ending their role as "in effect Russian border guards for Abkhazia," which is how the Georgian parliament’s Defense and Security commission chairman Revaz Adamia characterized their current function. The Russian commander in Abkhazia, Maj. Gen. Dolya Babenkov, has shifted ground in stating that his troops are prepared to relocate to Galidzga from the Inguri river (which separates Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia) and to ensure the security of returning refugees. And the naval component of Russian border troops similarly departed from its own practice by intercepting and turning back a Turkish-registered cargo ship bound for Abkhazia’s port Sukhumi. Abkhaz president Vladislav Ardzinba promptly warned that — should the Russian troops’ mandate be broadened — his forces "may again evict" those Georgian refugees who have trickled back to Gali district. (Interfax, March 22-24)

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