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Opposition leader in occupied Abkhazia supports dialogue between Sokhumi and Tbilisi

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, January 17
"Opposition's 'presidential candidate” in Georgia’s Russian-occupied Abkhazia region Aslan Bzhania says that “there must be a dialogue between Tbilisi and Sokhumi.”

Bzhania, who will run in the snap “presidential elections” in the region in March, told InterPressNews agency that "it is less important what the format of the dialogue, or whether there will be mediators or not."

According to Bzhania, the key is for the dialogue to produce a positive outcome, no matter how many parties are involved: "The key is to involve people who want to bring the process into a human and peaceful context."

"I have my opinion on the issue and I am ready to make it public in any audience," said Bzhania.

Bzhania noted that if there is a long-term perspective, good neighborly, equitable and kind relations should be established between the two states: “I see such a perspective and I know how it can be realized. We need to listen to each other well. That's what I can imagine and see in our dialogue. "

As for the near future, Bzhania believes that it is necessary to restore trust between the parties. “Steps should be taken in this direction and I am sure this will help us to get closer to our positions” – he said, emphasizing the importance of the economic possibilities in this direction. Bzhania stated that the “state institutions of Abkhazia” should be made stronger and laws should be adopted which will regulate the sale of lands to foreign nationals.

He said that he needs time to familiarize himself with the current situation in the Gali district that is mostly-resided by the ethnic Georgian population and is currently under Russian control. “We will make decisions based on the protection of human rights,” stated Bzhania.

According to the de facto Central Election Commission of Abkhazia, the re-election of the de facto president in Abkhazia, occupied by Russia, is scheduled for March 22. Local opposition protests on January 9 prompted the resignation of de facto President Raul Khajimba on January 12.

The nomination of de facto presidential candidates will begin on January 22 and end on February 11. The issue of their registration must be resolved within 30 days after filing the relevant documents.

Bzhania, who was scheduled to run in the 'presidential elections' in Abkhazia in September 2019, came back to the region only on January 9, 2020, as he was allegedly poisoned just before the elections last year. Over the past several months, he had to undergo treatment in Russia.

The recent developments in occupied Abkhazia were discussed behind closed doors in the Georgian Parliament.

The joint sitting of the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Temporary Commission on Territorial Integrity and De-occupation was closed on the recommendation of the representatives of the State Security Service invited by the rapporteur.

Before the session, Irakli Beraia, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee assessed the situation not only in occupied Abkhazia but also in the occupied Tskhinvali region:

“The security situation is compounded by the dire social situation, tensions on the ground, the criminal situation, with the Russian Federation being directly responsible.”

According to Beraia, special attention has been paid to the recent developments in Sokhumi, the security of the citizens is important, and the Georgian authorities are using all the leverage to keep these issues on the agenda of the international community.

“Russia's illegal voyages to Sokhumi, which serve only to enhance Russian interests, are unacceptable and inadmissible for us,” said Beraia.

The de-facto president’s decision to resign was preceded by a meeting with Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Rashid Nurgaliyev. Russia has also sent a delegation Sokhumi, headed by, Vladislav Surkov, President Putin’s assistant, who also met with opposition representatives on January 12 in Sokhumi. According to sources from Radio Liberty Project Kavkaz.Realii, Raul Khajimba refused to meet with Surkov.

Beraia also described the disturbance in the occupied Akhalgori district as particularly alarming: the situation created by the closure of the crossing, was "nothing more than a humanitarian catastrophe." He urged international partners to use all means to step up pressure on Russia to comply with the 2008 ceasefire agreement and other international obligations and restrictions in the shortest possible time.

After a closed parliamentary hearing, Deputy Head of the State Security Service Alexander Khojevanishvili told reporters that a "thorough process analysis" had been carried out and answered many MPs' questions.

Khojevanishvili was asked about the Abkhaz opposition leader Aslan Bzhania's statement. The deputy chief of the State Security Service described the initiative as interesting: "We have the Geneva format where we talk about all the issues and of course, if his initiatives are put out in a similar format, we will move to a much more intense mode."