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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI1141 2007-05-15 14:30 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #1141/01 1351430
O 151430Z MAY 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001141 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/15/2017 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4(b)&(d). 
1. (C) Special Representative of the UN Secretary General 
Jean Arnault told the Group of Friends Ambassadors May 15 
that Abkhaz de facto president Bagapsh is angry and 
politically weakened in the aftermath of his decision to 
release three Georgian students May 3 without any 
corresponding Georgian action on the case of missing Abkhaz 
official David Sigua.  Arnault said Bagapsh appears ready to 
cut off all contacts with Georgia, something Arnault fears 
will increase the potential for a miscalculation that could 
lead to a major confrontation during the "hot summer" ahead. 
Arnault said he would inquire with the Georgians on Sigua, 
and would undertake initiatives on the ground designed to 
reduce the risk of a miscalculation.  Given the threat of a 
complete break in communication between the sides, Arnault 
recommended a visit to Tbilisi and Sukhumi by senior 
representatives of the Friends from capitals in order to 
engage at the level of Saakashvili and Bagapsh.  End Summary. 
A "Botched Exchange"? 
2. (C) Arnault told Ambassadors and other representatives 
from the U.S., Russian, German, British, and French embassies 
that he had gone to Sukhumi late last week with the hope of 
reactivating dialogue between the two sides, especially on 
the security situation.  Instead, he found Bagapsh in an 
"angry mood" over what Bagapsh suggested was a botched 
attempt to exchange the three Georgian students, whom the 
Abkhaz detained along the cease-fire line in March, for 
Sigua, who was abducted by unidentified perpetrators in Gali 
in February.  Bagapsh was particularly unhappy that 
-- his "gesture of goodwill" in releasing the students was 
taken by the Georgian government as an opportunity to 
criticize the Abkhaz authorities; 
-- as of his meeting with Arnault March 10, Bagapsh had heard 
nothing about Sigua and was concerned he had been "tricked" 
by the Georgians; 
-- the Abkhaz political class was increasingly critical of 
him for giving something to the Georgians while getting 
nothing in return. 
3. (C) In response to questions from the Friends about the 
students' release, Arnault said he understood that Aslan 
Smyrba, an ethnic Abkhaz who had previously served as mayor 
of Batumi in the Georgian region of Adjara, had served as an 
intermediary.  The first two Abkhaz de facto officials Smyrba 
approached -- "foreign minister" Shamba and Gali district 
chief Kishmaria -- were reportedly skeptical of Smyrba and 
recommended against dealing with him in the absence of proof 
he could deliver Sigua.  Then Smyrba got a meeting with 
Bagapsh, who released the students within hours afterward. 
Arnault noted that the Georgians have consistently said they 
had nothing to do with Sigua's disappearance.  He said it was 
not clear to what extent Smyrba had been authorized to speak 
on behalf of the Georgians or what he might have promised to 
the Abkhaz about Sigua. 
4. (C) Arnault noted that Shamba -- a formidable figure in 
Abkhaz politics who has been seen in recent years as an ally 
of Bagapsh -- had formed a new NGO on March 12 together with 
two hardline foes of Bagapsh, de facto vice-president Raul 
Khajimba and general Vladimir Arshba.  Arnault added that 
tough anti-Georgian rhetoric was increasing in Abkhazia, with 
political figures calling for something to be done in 
response to alleged Georgian actions.  Arnault said Bagapsh 
had indicated to him that unless Sigua is released soon, he 
would cut off all dialogue with Georgia, including at the 
civil society level.  Arnault said it was his impression that 
Bagapsh's disposition on this is "here to stay."  Arnault 
said that a total collapse in the two sides' relationship 
would be a serious problem; with the likelihood of continued 
tensions and incidents in Kodori and Gali, the lack of 
communication would make it harder to prevent a 
"miscalculation" from escalating into a major confrontation. 
Next Steps for UN and Friends 
5. (C) Arnault said he had requested meetings with Georgian 
President Saakashvili and Minister of Internal Affairs 
Merabishvili to get more information on their view of the 
Sigua case.  To help reduce the risk of miscalculation, he 
said the UN would reactivate its post in Azhara, in the Upper 
Kodori Gorge, as soon as the weather permitted.  He said the 
UN would also undertake two initiatives in Gali: a review of 
the security presence of each side, to determine if they are 
TBILISI 00001141  002 OF 002 
exceeding the agreed limit of 600 personnel, and a permanent 
base in conjunction with the CIS peacekeepers near a youth 
camp that the Georgian government is building at the mouth of 
the Enguri River near the cease-fire line. 
6. (C) Arnault said that while the idea of a Geneva-style 
meeting involving representatives of the two sides was a good 
idea in principle, he thought the more pressing need now was &#x000A
;communication with the leaders on the two sides.  In the 
absence of direct contact, he thought a visit by senior 
representatives of the Friends as soon as possible, to meet 
with Saakashvili and Bagapsh, would be the next best thing. 
The Friends reacted positively to the idea, while noting that 
it would require consultation with their capitals.  Russian 
Embassy Counselor Vasily Korchmar claimed that he believed 
the key to dialogue was on the Georgian side; if given a 
signal from Tbilisi, he believed the Abkhaz would be ready to 
7. (C) Everyone in the meeting noted that we do not know if 
the Georgians have Sigua or not, or if he is alive or dead. 
All also agreed that it is probably better for the Friends 
not to get involved in that question; Arnault said he thought 
the likelihood of Sigua's release was small, especially given 
the Georgians' declarations that they do not have him.  In 
any case, Arnault's description of Bagapsh's internal 
political crisis raises the troubling prospect that the 
situation along the cease-fire line is even more tense and 
dangerous than we thought it was.  During his visit to 
Abkhazia May 23, the Ambassador will encourage Bagapsh and 
other de facto officials to maintain lines of communication 
with the Georgians, as well as to undertake demilitarization 
and other steps to build confidence.  We agree with Arnault 
that a visit by representatives of the Friends from capitals 
could help restore communication between the two sides' top 
decision-makers, something that may be essential to managing 
the fallout of provocative incidents. 


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