Armenia reiterates demand for Abkhaz railway opening

The Georgian Messenger
5 April 2004

By M. Alkhazashvili

ON April 1, Armenia’s Security Council Secretary and Defense Minister
Serzh Sarkisian paid a visit to Georgia and held negotiations with
local high-ranking officials regarding the restoration of the
Transcaucasian Railway which goes from Russia to Armenia via Georgia
and separatist-controlled Abkhazia. Other issues of their meeting
included the reduction of tariffs on cargo transported through
Georgian highways.

The issue of restoring the Abkhazia stretch of the railway first came
up one year ago at a summit held in Sochi between Russian President
Vladimir Putin and then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. At
that time, the two leaders agreed that this project was to be
conducted in parallel with the “safe and dignified” return of Georgian
refugees to the Gali region of Abkhazia.

Efforts to return displaced persons to the area have not met with
success, and on Friday the Secretary of the Georgian Security Council
Vano Merabishvili asked Armenia to use its leverage to facilitate this
return. “Armenia should use its special relationship with Russia and
play a more active and positive role in resolving the problem,” he
told reporters after the meeting. As land-locked Armenia has so much
to gain from the opening of the railway, Georgian officials suggested
to Sarkisian that his country use its influence on its strategic ally,
Russia, in order to accelerate the process of resolving the conflict.

At the same time when Sarkisian was in Tbilisi demanding the opening
of the railway, the Armenian activist groups in Abkhazia Krunk and
Mashtots, presented a list of demands to the Abkhaz separatist
government. They reminded the leaders that local Armenians played a
key role in “liberating Abkhazia from the Georgians.” This was despite
the fact that during the Abkhaz war of 1993, local Armenians fought on
both sides of the conflict. The growth in the Armenian population of
Abkhazia has caused the concern of separatist leaders and the fact
that resettled Armenians are occupying homes belonging to Georgians
forced out of the region could cause serious problems if and when the
Georgian refugees return to the region.

Georgian officials promised the Armenian guest that tariffs on
auto-transit cargo would be reduced and in addition, Merabishvili
apologized to Sarkisian for the inconveniences experienced by his
country when goods bound for Armenia were held up due to the recent
events in Adjara. As the crisis is not yet fully over, Merabishvili
advised Sarkisian to seek alternative routes for goods normally
transported via the Batumi Port and Sarpi Customs Check-point.