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7 Mar, 2008 18:44

Kosovo independence gives hope to Abhkazia

Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia has called on Russia and the international community to recognise its independence. The move was voted for at a special session of the region's Parliament.

Abkhazia's deputies want the world to recognise their republic as an independent state. The local parliament passed two resolutions calling on the United Nations, Russia and other countries to grant Abkhazia its sovereignty.

Irina Agrba, Deputy Speaker of Abkhazia's Parliament said her country had the right to self-determination.

Until the early 90's Abkhazia was a part of the Soviet Republic of Georgia. In 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, it declared independence. Georgia sent troops, sparking a violent conflict in the region. More than 280,000 ethnic Georgians fled from the horrors of war. Since then, many of them have returned to their homes.

Russian peacekeepers and UN observers have been deployed in the region, but even fifteen years after the war Abkhazia remains a frozen conflict zone, a republic without international recognition.

Abkhazia’s President, Sergey Bagapsh, says the world is changing. He's hoping that now the voice of Abkhazia will finally be heard.

“Kosovo has just boosted everything. We've made similar appeals before. In 1999 we held a nationwide referendum on independence. Kosovo is a precedent and we will work in that direction but Abkhazia has never linked its independence with Kosovo's recognition,” Bagapsh said.

Abkhazia largely relies on Russia when it comes to tourism, trade and humanitarian aid. Almost 90 per cent of Abkhazians have applied for Russian passports, and over the years they've been granted citizenship. The rouble remains the only currency in the republic. Despite this, co-operation has been limited.

On Thursday Russia lifted all the sanctions that had been in effect since 1996, and debates on the republic's status in Russia's Lower House of Parliament are scheduled for next week.

Abkhazia's top officials are planning to meet with their Russian counterparts in Moscow. They hope that this time Russia will go further than just lifting economic sanctions and that Abkhazia's dreams of international recognition will come true.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s President, Mikhail Saakashvili, says the lifting of sanctions against Abkhazia will cause further destabilisation in the region.
“This is a very precarious stance by Russia, intended to destabilise the regional situation and trigger uncontrollable processes. By doing so the Russians took the course to militarise the region. We will declare a zero-tolerance policy towards the militarisation of Abkhazia,” Saakashvili said.