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Interview of Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Abkhazia Irakli Khintba for the news-agency "ApsnyPress"

- Irakli Revazovich, Georgian media have repeatedly reported on the success of Georgia's strategy of "engagement through cooperation". As evidence, they say that the citizens of Abkhazia often visit Georgia to obtain medical treatment and other services. What is your commentary on this?

- The issue of health care is a purely humanitarian issue and should not be politicised. When it comes to saving human life, no-one can prohibit a person from receiving the necessary medical care. At the same time, I want to note that views of the "mass-character" of citizens of Abkhazia turning for medical help to hospitals in Georgia do not correspond with reality. It is necessary to distinguish actual from virtual reality, which latter is a formulation of Georgian propaganda. It is impossible to speak of any "success of Georgia's strategy". Not one of those who have travelled to Georgia and obtained medical assistance there have as result become loyal to the Georgian authorities. We trust our citizens, and so I'm absolutely convinced that these, let me emphasize, few trips to Georgia cannot so affect the consciousness of the citizens of Abkhazia that they will forget about the idea an Abkhazian independent state achieved at the cost of so much blood.

- And yet these trips are used by the Georgian authorities for propaganda purposes, as evidence of the increasing attractiveness of Georgia for the citizens of Abkhazia...

- The Georgian authorities are able to squeeze water from a stone; they make PR out of abolutely anything, and, in the realm of propaganda, they have achieved a lot. Indeed, these infrequent visits are treated by the Tbilisi authorities as an example of the effective functionality of the Georgian strategy of "soft engagement" of the Abkhazians. I do not deny that some political risk lurks here, because for us it is unacceptable that this strategy should gain minimal, even virtual, signs of viability in the eyes of the international community. And, of course, we will do our best to ensure that this Georgian initiative come crashing down. As for treatment, in the near future, there will be created in the Republic of Abkhazia all conditions for the provision of quality health-services to the public.

- What is the situation with the highly publicised action by the Georgian authorities to issue citizens of Abkhazia with so-called neutral passports?

- Neutral Passport are part of the same strategy. I once again express confidence that in our society this idea is absolutely devoid of any perspective. Firstly, these passports are not neutral, because there is a clear legal binding of these documents to the relevant Georgian structures. Secondly, the Georgian side has simply no legal basis to issue the so-called "neutral documents" to residents of Abkhazia, as they are not stateless persons. The purpose of this whole undertaking is to limit the rights of citizens of Abkhazia to free movement. With all the means at our disposal we shall continue to promote the idea of recognition of Abkhazian international passports as travel-documents. Unfortunately, the agenda of the last round of Geneva talks was suspiciously shaped so that the discussion of this issue "was out of time."

- Do I understand that the purpose of the Georgian authorities today is maximum isolation of Abkhazia?

- You are absolutely right. I'm not even talking about the infamous and totally illegal law "On the Occupied Territories". Should not any self-respecting state be ashamed to pass a law according to which today it takes to court a Russian citizen just because he had previously entered the territory of Abkhazia via the ‘Psou’ checkpoint? Today we see the continuation of this discriminatory line also in specific decisions and actions of the Georgian authorities. Consider the following: demands for control over links between Abkhazia and any external actors; appeals to Western governments with the aim of placing a ban on citizens of Abkhazia obtaining visas in their Russian passports; pressure on international non-governmental organisations and commercial companies working in Abkhazia and with Abkhazia; persecution of our ambassadors and consuls in foreign countries; and much more.

- Are there any specific examples?

- Of course, a lot of them. I cite a recent example. We were quite surprised to learn that the other day, to put it mildly, ‘it was not recommended’ by the government of Georgia to a large delegation of deputies from the European Parliament and the Bundestag to visit our country. According to German press-reports, Saakashvili thought persons heading the delegation were ‘needlessly pro-Abkhazian’. Therefore, the funders financing the trip decided to cancel it for fear of persecution from Tbilisi. And, following this, did not someone in Tbilisi have the gall to allow himself to say that Abkhazia is allegedly cutting itself off from the international community?!

- We now turn to the history of the Georgian sailors, the handing over of whom to the Georgian side was coordinated by the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry. What commentary can you offer on the statement by the press-spokesman of the President of Georgia to the effect that the Georgian sailors were held captive in Abkhazia?

- Statements made by Ms. Mandzhgaladze are completely without foundation. Once again I shall relate the history of the matter. The Abkhazian authorities organised the transfer to the Georgian side of the citizens of Georgia, members of the crew of the «Hakki Chillioglu». The fact is that the vessel was outside the jurisdiction of Abkhazia, as, according to the norms of international maritime law, it has a status of extraterritoriality. Therefore, in order to organise the removal of sailors from the ship, their transportation to the border and transfer to the Georgian side, it was necessary to comply with all procedures defined by international law, in the first place to receive formal approval from the crew and find a replacement crew for the ship. This cargo-vessel has been in Sukhum Bay for more than nine months because it had problems with the steering. I also emphasize that the shipowner was heavily in debt to the crew and sea-port, with the result that the ship's captain and some of the crew decided to stay on board until the payment of the sums of money due to them. However, the owner was in no hurry to pay the debts, time passed, and the sailors remained on board. All this time, the Abkhazian authorities provided the necessary assistance to the crew-members. And also the International Committee of the Red Cross did not lose sight of the situation.

- Why was the decision was made to help in the transfer of the seafarers to the Georgian side?

- As a result of a recent storm, the freighter drifted out to sea. Its resources were exhausted; the crew had no reserves of water. In these circumstances, the government of Abkhazia decided to assist the citizens of Georgia who were in a difficult humanitarian situation and to arrange their transfer to the Georgian side. All relevant services of the Republic of Abkhazia were mobilised to ensure the safety of the crew of the ship. Sailors were visited by representatives of the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry and the Mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross. From the crew a written certificate was received that they were voluntarily leaving the ship and would be sent to Georgia. In addition, the sailors confirmed in writing that the Abkhazian authorities had not exerted pressure on them and that they had received from them regular assistance. In attendance at the discussion with members of the crew was the head of the ICRC mission in Abkhazia, who confirms the friendly tone of the conversation and the lack of pressure on the Georgian sailors. It was also confirmed that the situation relating to their presence on board was due to unsettled working and economic disputes with the owner and has nothing to do with the nationality of the crew-members. Therefore, the asserton of the Georgian representatives that the sailors on board the ship were taken prisoner is totally absurd and a manifestation of an elementary ignorance of international law.

- Georgian President Saakashvili has even expressed gratitude to the Deputy Minister of Economics of Georgia, G. Karbelashvili, stressing that the Georgian side did everything for the release of sailors...

- Once again, I stress that this humanitarian action was solely an initiative of the Government of Abkhazia, and it was implemented in strict accordance with international law and national legislation of the Republic of Abkhazia. However, as I said earlier, the authorities in Tbilisi just love to make PR out of everything. The last thing on the mind of Georgian Economics’ Minister Vera Kobalia and her retinue when meeting the sailors on the Ingur bridge was paying attention to the sailors themselves, preferring to make "loud" declarations to camera. In these declarations, it is Mr. Karbelashvili, in particular, who is spoken of for having allegedly "conducted negotiations with the Abkhazian authorities" and having achieved "the release of the prisoners". More absurd and shameless lies it is difficult to imagine, although hardly surprising: after all, everyone has long grown accustomed to the fact that lies and provocations are for the current authorities in Tbilisi one of the principal means of achieving political goals. As for us, in regard to the situation with the Georgian sailors, we acted like the fully-fledged, sovereign, independent state that we are.

- What is the further fate of these sailors?

- I want to note that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, which coordinated the process of transfer, expressed the hope that the Tbilisi authorities would be able to secure and protect the rights of the sailors handed over to the territory of Georgia. I note that the Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia, Mr. Bokeria, confirmed that these poor sailors would not be harassed by the law-enforcement agencies of Georgia.

- Are we ready for dialogue with Georgia and, if so, on what issues?

- The problem here is that, even if we were now quite ready for this dialogue, the current regime in Georgia clearly has no intention of moving in this direction. The Tbilisi authorities themselves have placed themselves on the Procrustean bed of "the concept of the Russian occupation," which they want to take the place of a real solution to the conflict with Abkhazia. It is clear that, for Georgia's ruling élite, mobilisation of the factor of the Russian threat serves as a means of political self-preservation. But this is just a palliative, the use of which drives ever deeper the unsolved problems of Georgian-Abkhazian relations. Information about the formation in the Zugdidi district of informal armed groups against the backdrop of Georgia's unwillingness to sign an agreement with us not to use force also cannot help to settle the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and stabilise the situation in the region. Georgia must recognise Abkhazia at least as a party to the conflict and a subject in the negotiation-situation, although the current Georgian leadership is clearly not able to transcend the barriers it has itself constructed.

Source: ApsnyPress

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