Georgia looks for larger EU role in thawing "frozen conflicts"

24th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

The country's officials welcome future assistance from the EU in solving conflicts on its territory

Brussels -- Georgia would welcome a larger European Union role in solving the "frozen conflicts" on its territory, the country's foreign minister said in Brussels on Friday.

EU involvement in brokering a peace deal between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia would be "more than welcome" and Georgia's Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili will "negotiate with the EU on that," the minister told journalists after a meeting with the EU's top foreign policy official, Javier Solana.

"The EU certainly has the tools for the kind of assistance we are requesting, (such as) a joint police mission of the Georgians and Abkhaz supported by the relevant EU mission," Georga's ambassador to the EU, Salome Samadashvili, added.

Two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, fought wars of independence against Tbilisi in the early 1990s and have been effectively autonomous since 1994.

Russia has maintained peacekeeping forces in the two regions since the 1994 ceasefire. However, as Georgia has pushed for closer ties with NATO, Russia has strengthened its ties with the separatist areas, while stopping short of recognising their independence.

Georgia is therefore keen to see a handover of power from Russian peacekeepers. Potential changes could include sharing the task between the EU and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, the organization of former-Soviet states) or EU training for a joint Georgian-Abkhaz police presence, Tkeshelashvili said.

The EU currently maintains multi-ethnic police training missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

On her first international visit as Georgia's foreign minister, less than a week after a parliamentary election which opposition forces said was rigged, Tkeshelashvili stressed the positive nature of her country's relations with the EU.

"It has to be very clear that we appreciate very much the strength of moral and diplomatic support that we felt from Europe...supporting the territorial integrity of Georgia," she said.

And she stressed that her government was keen to see all complaints of vote irregularities analysed, saying that its commitment to do so was "fully fledged."

Tensions between Georgia and Russia are currently running high over the Abkhaz issue, and Tbilisi is keen to win the support of both the EU and NATO: a support which cooled notably after government crackdowns on demonstrators in 2007.

In April, NATO leaders decided not to offer Georgia a road map to membership, with France and Germany arguing that the frozen conflicts and its patchy democratic record made such a move premature.

Tkeshelashvili is "definitely" planning to travel to France and Germany in the near future, she said. On Monday she is set to meet the foreign ministers from the EU's Nordic and Baltic states, and on Tuesday she is set to visit NATO's political headquarters.

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