Autonomy Plan for South Ossetian Enclave in Georgia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jan 25 21:31:30 UTC 2005

>>From the NYTimes,
January 25, 2005
Plan Offers Autonomy for Enclave in Georgia

MOSCOW, Jan. 24 - Seeking to renew negotiations in a stalemated internal
conflict, President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia on Monday released
details of a proposal offering autonomy to a breakaway region along
Georgia's northern border with Russia. The proposal would grant new
political rights and economic benefits to South Ossetia, a small enclave
in the Caucasus Mountains that has been all but independent since fighting
a civil war against Georgia in the early 1990's.

South Ossetia has existed in recent years almost as a satellite of Russia.
The difficulties that any reconciliation would face were underscored when
South Ossetia's president, who was on business in Moscow, rejected it
sight unseen minutes after Mr. Saakashvili discussed his offer for peace
and unification. "We are not interested in any autonomy developed by a
neighboring country," the president, Eduard D. Kokoity, said in a
telephone interview.

The phrase "a neighboring country" was a clear snub, because South Ossetia
lies within Georgia's internationally recognized borders. Despite such
apparent intractability, Mr. Saakashvili said the proposal would be made
public on Wednesday at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe, in France, where he hopes to restart negotiations in a political
deadlock that has risked flaring anew into war.

Under Mr. Saakashvili's proposal, Georgia would grant residents of the
enclave expanded rights of local government, including direct elections of
all local officials, revenue-sharing of local tax collection and
decision-making on local matters, including the choice of language, Mr.
Saakashvili said. One of Mr. Saakashivili's aides later said the proposal
would include guarantees for the protection of Ossetian culture and
support for Ossetian media. Mr. Saakashvili said Georgia would also grant
rights of return to all refugees who fled the area during or after the
civil war, and would compensate people who lost property and homes.
Moreover, he said, Georgia would convene a joint commission to investigate
lingering allegations of war crimes by both sides, and would consider
creating a special economic zone for the mountainous area. "This is a
comprehensive package, which we will be handing over to the local
government there, and be waiting for their response," he said in a
telephone interview from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

Some details were not yet available, including the amount of money that
might be offered for compensation for lost homes. When pressed, Mr.
Saakashvili said the payments would be substantial. "We are talking about
enough money to build houses, and to be above the subsistence level," he
said. Mr. Saakashvili, while hopeful that his plan would be considered,
noted that talks over autonomy could prove difficult without the support
of the Kremlin. "If Moscow tells them not to negotiate, they will not
negotiate,"  he said.

When Mr. Saakashvili assumed office a year ago after ousting President
Eduard A. Shevardnadze, three of the country's regions did not recognize
federal rule: Ajaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He made national
reunification one of his principal goals.

He found quick success in Ajaria, a Black Sea region on the border with
Turkey, which fell under central control last May.

The remaining two areas have proven more difficult. Abkhazia and South
Ossetia fought wars against Georgia after the Soviet Union's collapse, and
talks are saddled with accusations of war crimes, status questions for
refugees and bitter property disputes.

Mr. Saakashvili said he hoped to resolve the problems with South Ossetia
before turning to Abkhazia, which he said would be even harder.

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