Claiming Peacekeeping Failure

Protesters and the Government Call for CIS Peacekeeper Withdrawal

Protests widen demanding Russian peacekeepers withdrawal from Abkhazia. On January 21 protests started in front of the State Chancellery building in addition to those going on at Enguri bridge fom January 19.

Demands of the protesters radicalize. The displaced persons and partisans initially demended moving of the peacekeeper checkpoints deeper into Abkhazian territory, to the Ghalidzga river. Presently, the demands include complete withdrawal of the CIS peacekeepers (in fact Russian troops) from the conflict zone.

Unrecognized government of Abkhazia adamantly opposes even the relocation of the peacekeepers to Ghalidzga river, which would mean return of the Gali district of Abkhazia to Georgian jurisdiction.  

Protesters blocked every road or bridge going to Abkhazia for the peacekeepers and UN observers. Their vehicles are not allowed to pass.

On January 22 David Shengelia, leader of the “Forest Brothers” partisan group, stated that all roads across Enguri river are mined and they will not bear any responsibility for any losses caused by these landmines.

Mandate of the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazian conflict zone expired on December 31, 2001. They are stationed n Abkhazia since 1994 under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

According to Tamaz Nadareishvili, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Abkhazia-in-exile more then 1700 civilians died in a peacekeeper-controlled security zone during the 8 years of presence of the Russian units. The Parliamentary statement on the situation in Abkhazia, adopted on October 11 2001 reiterates this figure.

Similar protests were held in October 2001 in front of the State Chancellery building. That time President Shevardnadze made rather unexpected appearance at the protests promised to support withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers if the parliament takes such decision.

On October 11, 2001 following Shevardnadze’s endorsement the Georgian Parliament adopted a decision concerning withdrawal of the Russian units. However, after his meeting with Vladimer Putin in Moscow on November 30, President Shevardnadze changed the position, stating that he does not support rapid withdrawal of the peacekeepers.

Today the protesters state that their actions will grow further if the authorities do not satisfy their demands.

In their conversations with the representatives of the mass media almost every governmental representative sympathises with the protesters . According to the latest statements of the President, Shevardnadze supports demands of the citizens but says that the Russian peacekeepers will remain deployed in Abkhazia until the issue of their replacement with other peacekeeping forces is solved.

Despite the support of the government, the issue can not be easily solved . As the State Security Minister has stated on January 21, 2002, “this is not the problem which can be solved in one or two days. It will take years”.

At this moment the only country that has expressed readiness for participation in peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia is Ukraine. During the his visit to Georgia on January 12, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister  Anatoli Zlenko assured Georgian officials that Ukraine will participate in the peacekeeping operation in case it is conducted under UN auspices.

This condition makes a prospect of replacement of the Russian peacekeepers with the Ukrainian units even more distant.
By Salome Jashi, Civil Georgia