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14 Aug, 2007 13:54

Georgia & Abkhazia remember conflict victims

Commemorative events on the 15th anniversary of the armed conflict between Georgia and its breakaway republic of Abkhazia are being held to remember the victims. At a rally in the capital Sukhumi, the President of Abkhazia, Sergey Bagapsh, said Abkhazia w

More than 5,000 people took part in the annual rally in downtown Sukhumi. Today's events marking the occasion also include a minute's silence during the rally and a candle-lit vigil expected to take place later in the day at one of the bridges in the suburbs of the city.

In Georgia's capital Tbilisi wreaths were laid at a memorial commemorating the conflict.

A rally calling for restoration of the republic's territorial integrity was also held at the parliament building. Authorities say no more than two thousand people attended.

The armed conflict lasted 413 bitter days, flaring up after the Abkhaz minority declared independence from Georgia and Georgian troops seized Sukhumi, the capital of the separatist region. Both sides used heavy artillery and air strikes – sometimes indiscriminately. It resulted in the defeat of the Georgian military and left over 10,000 people on both sides dead.

The open conflict ended in 1993, with the signing of the ceasefire agreement in 1994 and the deployment of the UN-monitored peacekeeping force that includes Russian personnel.

Abkhazia is a de facto state with its own army, national anthem and constitution. Numerous referendums held in Abkhazia since, have revealed a strong support for independence from Georgia. Nevertheless, Abkhazia has not been recognised as a sovereign nation by any country and is now balancing between shaky peace and another conflict with Georgia.

Russia acknowledges the territorial integrity of Georgia which includes Abkhazia. But to prevent another bloody conflict that could spiral out of control Moscow has called on Georgia to refrain from using any more military force.

But tensions still lie beneath the surface. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili insists that Abkhazia should be re-integrated into Georgia and is investing hugely in modernising the Georgia's military and training its personnel.

The Abkhaz army is using equipment that dates back to the Soviet times and faces lack of funds.

Georgia is striving to become a NATO member and has the third largest military contingent in Iraq.

But with a gun in almost every household and every man of age a potential reservist, the military power of Abkhazia is something to be taken into account.

Meanwhile, Natalya Narochnitskaya from the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee says the conflict cannot be resolved if Georgia goes on with its anti-Russia policy.

“Tbilisi should understand and recognise that if it pursues a very clear and evident anti-Russian policy – that only adds to the conflict because neither Ossetians nor Abkhazians want to be part of such policy. They are absolutely pure Russian. Accepting the fact that Tbilisi hasn't done anything to mend this conflict during 15 years, recognising the fact that the will for independence of Ossetia and Abkhazia was expressed unequivocally during the referendum, we cannot close our eyes on these aspects although we never said anything radical about it,” she commented.

Apart from all this, Abkhazia is a resort and, according to the self-proclaimed republic's ministry of tourism, in 2007 the number of tourists will be 40% more than the previous year. Actually, Abkhazia is also close to Sochi which has been chosen as a Host City for 2014 Winter Olympics.