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Georgia 1994 "Frozen Conflict"

The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), consisting of about 115 military observers monitoring the ceasefire lines and a civilian component, was established in 1994 after an accord reached in Moscow ended fighting that had forced nearly 300,000 people to flee.

The Russian-enforced ceasefire in 1994 brought an end to the armed conflict in Abkhazia, and resulted in the permanent stationing of Russian troops in Abkhazia. A Russian peacekeeping force also has been in South Ossetia since 1992. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained adamant in their separatist demands, and refused any sort of autonomy that would mean remaining a part of Georgia. Georgia was striving to reach a peaceful solution with the separatist regions.

Georgia was of vital strategic interest to Russia and the west, because it sits in the path of potentially lucrative oil routes. Regional ethnic distribution is a major cause of the problems Georgia faces along its borders and within its territory. Under Soviet rule, a large part of Georgian territory was divided into autonomous regions that included concentrations of non-Georgian peoples. Russians, who make up the third largest ethnic group in the country (6.7 percent of the total population in 1989), do not constitute a majority in any district. The highest concentration of Russians is in Abkhazia.

Georgian government had no effective control over Abkhazia or much of South Ossetia. The Georgian state was highly centralized, except for the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and Ajaria, which were to be given special autonomous status once Georgia's territorial integrity was restored. Those regions were subjects of special autonomies during Soviet rule and the legacy of that influence remained. The political status of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was unresolved. Sporadic outbreaks of violence continued to erupt in Abkhazia. About 300,000 people displaced by these conflicts had yet to return to home.

The instability in Georgia during the early 1990s led to the postponement of elections until November 1995, when President Shevardnaze and his ruling Union of Georgian Citizens party won the presidential elections with over 70 percent of the vote.

President Shevardnaze narrowly escaped an assassination attempt just prior to the elections on August 29, 1995. The assassination attempt resulted in a crackdown against opposition forces such as the para-military Mkhedrioni (horsemen), led by former ally Saba Joseliani. The 1998 trial of Joseliani and 14 other alleged conspirators was characterized by the same violations of due process found in other recent trials with political overtones. The Government consistently violated due process both during the investigation and the trial. Torture, use of forced confessions, fabricated or planted evidence, denial of legal counsel, and expulsion of defendants from the courtroom took place. In February 1998 between 10 to 15 assailants unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate President Shevardnadze. During the exchange of gunfire, two of his bodyguards and one of the attackers were killed, and four bodyguards were wounded seriously. Both assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998 were reported to have been linked to disputes over construction of oil pipelines through Georgian territory. Moscow is also suspected of being behind the two assassination attempts on President Shevardnadze.

On 19 October 1998 army forces put down a small scale mutiny led by Colonel Akaki Eliava, a supporter of deceased former President Gamsakhurdia. The mutiny resulted in the deaths of one soldier and two mutineers and generated almost no popular support.

Since surviving assassination attempts in August 1995 and February 1998, President Eduard Shevardnadze consolidated his leadership and declared an ambitious reform agenda. Elections on November 5, 1995, described as the freest and fairest in the Caucasus or Central Asia, gave him the presidency and resulted in a progressive parliament led by sophisticated reformers. Since 1998, however, the reform process encountered serious obstacles and made limited progress.

The parliament instituted wideranging political reforms supportive of higher human rights standards, including religious freedoms enshrined in the constitution. Problems persisted, however, largely as a result of the unwillingness of law enforcement and criminal justice officials to support constitutionally mandated rights. Violence against religious minorities and mistreatment of pretrial detainees are significant and continuing problems, as is corruption.

The coup attempt in October 1998 led the chairman of the National Independence Party to call for NATO or the United States to station a military contingent in Georgia to protect Caspian oil transport. In December 1998, representatives from the GUAM Group (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) held talks about setting up a special peacekeeping force to protect the oil export pipelines. Proposals were made to work with NATO to set up this force within the framework of the Partnership for Peace Program, which was established by NATO to strengthen ties with former Eastern Bloc and former Soviet states.

Renewed fighting in the neighboring Chechnya (Russia) generated concerns that the conflict might spill over into Georgia. Several thousand Chechen refugees moved into Georgia's Pankisi Gorge in late 1999, adding to the refugee/internally displaced population. The Abkhaz separatist dispute absorbs much of the government's attention. While a cease-fire is in effect, about 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were driven from their homes during the conflict constitute a vocal lobby. The government has offered the region considerable autonomy in order to encourage a settlement, which would allow the IDPs, the majority of whom are ethnic Georgians from the Gali region, to return home, but the Abkhaz insist on independence.

By early 2003 it appeared that the political situation in Georgia had stabilized after years of civil strife. It had a leader, President Shevardnadze, who commanded support from home and had a high profile abroad. Georgia had friendly relations with all of its neighbors - rare in a region torn with conflict. In addition, it had also been able to institute a series of economic reforms and position itself as a regional trading hub.

Russia sought to retain a military presence in Georgia. Only with some reluctance, did it agree to withdraw its troops from the Gudauta base in Abkhazia and from the Vaziani military airfield near Tbilisi -- both by the end of June 2001. Moscow asked for lease renewals on two other Soviet-era bases -- one in Batumi in the Ajaria region, the other in Akhalkalaki in the Javakhetia region. Georgia wanted the two bases vacated by 2004, but Russia wanted 15 years to fulfill its pledge to pull out, by 2016.

Shevardnadze periodicly pledged from 1995 through 2001 that Georgia would seek NATO membership in 2005. Russia was strongly opposed to the alliance's eastward expansion, which it saw as a threat to its national security. On 15 March 1999 President Shevardnadze said that NATO expansion would continue, but added that it would be premature to speak of Georgia's possible entry to the alliance before Tbilisi establishes a "new model" for relations with Russia. In May 1999 Shevardnadze predicted that Georgia would not join NATO, even if he was re-elected in 2000 for a second five-year term. Shevardnadze admitted that Georgia was currently incapable of meeting membership requirements. However, in October 1999 Shevardnadze stated that if he was re-elected president in 2000, Georgia would campaign vigorously for NATO membership.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:51 ZULU