Tbilisi 'Accepts' Moscow's Formula for Refugee Return to Abkhazia

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a "perfectly acceptable" formula to Tbilisi for the return of ethnic Georgian refugees into the self-proclaimed breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said in a radio address on Monday.

In remarks summing up his meeting with Putin in Sochi on March 6-7, Shevardnadze noted the Russian leader's proposals called for renewal of the rail link between Georgia and Russia via the Abkhazia section of the railway, as well as complete economic rehabilitation of the conflict area in parallel or synchronization with the refugee return process.

He said, "the first stage will be the return of refugees into the Gali District, Abkhazia's largest district where 40-45 thousand people reside at the present time." "Of course, the process of refugees' return will not be painless and problem-free - there are the objective realities we must reckon with," the Georgian leader pointed out. He stressed the process of the repatriation of the Georgian population was to develop in line with "registration" of residents and "legalization of the population's rights." In parallel with the refugee repatriation process, reconstruction of the Sochi-Tbilisi rail link and economic rehabilitation of the Gali District will begin, said Shevardnadze.

After the Gali District, refugee repatriation processes would proceed to other areas of Abkhazia, "step by step and by numbers, without any tension," as he put it.

He noted, "The proposal of the Georgian side on the creation of a trilateral coalition administration in the Gali District with appropriate institutions and common police structures remains in force too."