Statement by the Chairman

High-level meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General

18-19 February 2008, Geneva


On 18-19 February 2008, senior representatives of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General met in Geneva under the chairmanship of the United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Together with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the Friends took stock of developments in the United Nations-led Georgian-Abkhaz peace process since their last meeting at Bonn in June 2007 and discussed ways and means to advance the settlement of the conflict.  Representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides took part in the meeting.


The Chairman welcomed the absence of significant incidents along the ceasefire line in recent months.  At the same time, he noted that during the period since the Bonn meeting, contacts between the parties had been scarce and stressed that no substantial progress was made in implementing the measures contained in the Proposals for Confidence-building Measures made by the Group of Friends in February 2007. The Chairman reiterated the view, borne out by the UN peacemaking experience, that in protracted negotiations small steps and partial successes were essential to the credibility of the peace process in the minds of political leaders on both sides and before public opinion at large.  He therefore encouraged the sides to make efforts in the areas that were already identified as potential common ground and to devise further confidence-building measures apt to reverse the deterioration suffered by the relationship between the two sides in 2007.  The Chairman also emphasized the continued readiness of the international community to assist the parties’ efforts by ensuring that resources are available to the implementation of agreements between them and the Friends’ commitment to monitor closely the implementation of the confidence-building agenda.  The Chairman informed that in line with this international support, the United Nations had initiated an assessment of the peace process with the participation, in particular, of the Secretariat as well as the UN Agencies, Funds and Programs.  This exercise, to be completed in the spring of 2008, is aimed at improving the prospect for a fair and lasting settlement of the conflict.


The Georgian side stressed the vital importance of the international community’s commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as reflected in Security Council resolutions.  It undertook to move the conflict settlement process forward through incremental steps. It noted progress in implementing measures discussed in Geneva and Bonn in 2007, including the investigation of the Davit Sigua disappearance, the Programme for Rehabilitation in the zone of conflict and the issue of missing persons.  It stated, in particular, that its commitments regarding the upper Kodori valley were fulfilled and verifiable thanks to transparency measures such as the establishment of a UNOMIG team base there. It believed, therefore, that this issue should be removed from the agenda.  Also with regard to security, the Georgian delegation suggested that outstanding issues concerning the resumption of the security dialogue could be promptly resolved.  The Georgian delegation stressed that the JFFG investigations should be broadened to include 32 other cases. The Georgian side stressed its readiness to elaborate and implement jointly with the Abkhaz side specific, tangible, result-oriented proposals aimed at increasing confidence, people-to-people contacts and the development of strong ties between civil societies. In this regard, the Georgian delegation emphasized its humanitarian rather than political approach to building confidence. It underlined its willingness to develop unilaterally proactive communication strategies, including through mass media, in order to decrease tensions and foster reconciliation between Georgian and Abkhaz societies. In this context, the delegation invited the international community to assist Georgian and Abkhaz journalists in getting direct access to information. The Georgian side was ready to receive Abkhaz journalists, as a start. Among specific proposals, the Georgian side emphasized the establishment of economic links and the lifting of economic sanctions, provided that agreement was reached with the Abkhaz side on a number of issues including modalities for the freedom of movement of people and goods, and security guarantees, including in relation to the safe and dignified return of IDPs and refugees. The Georgian side stressed that joint economic activities could be the best mechanism to ensure confidence building. In this regard, it reiterated its readiness to explore further specific means for the implementation of recommendations made in Bonn regarding maritime communications. The Georgian side also expressed its readiness to revisit, taking into account new circumstances, the package of documents prepared in 2005 on the non-use of force and the return of IDPs and refugees. Overall, the Georgian side stated its intention to find new, creative approaches to the implementation of confidence building measures.


The Abkhaz side noted the recent UN assessment that the negotiation process was deadlocked, and invited the UN and the Group of Friends to revisit accordingly their approach to the settlement of the conflict. In particular, the Abkhaz side stressed the need for international intermediaries to take into account in a more balanced way the international principles of self-determination and territorial integrity, particularly in the light of recent decisions on Kosovo. To this end, it proposed that the Abkhaz position paper “Key to the Future” rather than the so-called “Boden document” be used as a basis for future comprehensive settlement negotiations. At the same time, the Abkhaz side stressed its intention to continue to cooperate with the UN-led peace process and fulfill the commitments it gave in its framework. In particular, the Abkhaz delegation reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the confidence-building measures proposed by the Friends and stressed what were the main issues apt to improve confidence between the parties and, to a large extent, the credibility of the negotiation itself. They were the full implementation of the Moscow Agreement with regard to the Kodori valley, the non-use of force and the lifting of the CIS embargo.  In this respect, the Abkhaz side stressed its flexibility in finding compromises on these issues, including the gradual establishment of a local police force in the upper Kodori valley, with international assistance if required; and the adoption of the already negotiated package of documents on non-use of force and IDP return. With regard to other confidence-building measures identified at Bonn, the Abkhaz side stressed its own record of implementation. It also suggested that the proposals identified at Bonn should be implemented before new proposals are considered.  Finally the Abkhaz delegation clarified that the issuance of Abkhaz passports would continue to take place on a strictly voluntary basis.


The Friends noted the relative quiet on the ceasefire line over the past few months and stressed the importance of cooperation by the two sides in maintaining and enhancing the security situation. In this connection, they reiterated their urgent call for the resumption as soon as possible of the security meetings between the sides, UNOMIG and the CIS PKF, which constitutes a basic requirement for cooperation and confidence.


With regard to confidence-building, the Friends expressed their disappointment at the lack of progress made since the Bonn meeting in June 2007 and stressed the importance of implementing fully the Proposals for Confidence-building Measures made by the Friends in February 2007 and endorsed by the Security Council. At the same time, the Friends noted the fact that there appeared to be common ground with regard to the necessity, after one year of escalating mistrust, to focus on the gradual restoration of a working relationship between the sides across a range of issues. The Friends encouraged the two sides to take a pragmatic approach in this respect. They took note of a number of new proposals by the Georgian side but cautioned against creating linkages that will make it more difficult to achieve concrete results. They reiterated their commitment to monitor closely the implementation of the assurances given by the sides. The Friends also recalled that international expertise was available to the sides in addressing more technical issues on their agenda and offered their concrete support on trade and communication issues. The Friends stressed the importance they attach to the preservation of peace. They reaffirmed as fundamentally important the right of return for all the refugees and IDPs to Abkhazia, Georgia; and encouraged the sides to focus on practical steps to improve conditions for returns, in the first instance to Gali. In this context, they noted with interest the possibility of a consideration of the package of documents on the non-use of force and the return of IDPs and refugees, and encouraged the two sides to finalize it as soon as possible.


Finally, the Friends welcomed the reaffirmation by both sides of their commitment to the UN-led peace process. While stressing that responsibility for the success of the conflict resolution mechanisms rests with the parties themselves, they stated their own determination to continue to assist the two sides and the United Nations in the framework of the Security Council resolutions. They expressed their support for the efforts of the Special Representative to these ends.


Geneva, 19 February 2008