08TBILISI527, MAJOR IMPEDIMENTS REMAIN FOR IDPS SEEKING RETURN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI527 2008-03-28 11:28 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO7258
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0527/01 0881128
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 281128Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9195
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000527 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT. FOR EUR/CARC AND PRM 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/26/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV GG
SUBJECT: MAJOR IMPEDIMENTS REMAIN FOR IDPS SEEKING RETURN 
TO ABKHAZIA 
 
REF: 07 TBILISI 2146 
 
Classified By: CDA Mark X. Perry, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  Despite recent Russian Foreign Ministry 
claims that a "majority" of ethnic Georgians have returned to 
Gali, nearly 230,000 of an estimated 270,000 Internally 
Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-3 
war remain displaced and unable to return to their homes. 
Security concerns continue to be a primary impediment to 
return, particularly in the predominantly ethnic Georgian 
Gali district of Abkhazia, where reports of robberies, forced 
conscription, assaults and kidnappings targeting ethnic 
Georgians are common. Crime targeting Georgians in Gali 
remains high, with the Abkhaz police and CIS peacekeepers 
doing little to improve the security situation.  Other 
impediments to IDP return include Abkhaz "citizenship" 
requirements, which would force IDPs who return to renounce 
their Georgian citizenship, the illegal sale of IDP property 
to Russian and Abkhaz citizens, restricted access to 
Georgian-language education and the threat of conscription 
into the Abkhaz military, not to mention pervasive hostility 
toward ethnic Georgians by the Abkhaz.  End summary. 
 
Yakobashvili: violence in Gali benefits de-facto govt. 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
2.  (C)  Georgian Minister for Reintegration Yakobashvili 
expressed frustration during a recent meeting with Charge 
that the Abkhaz de-facto authorities were not doing more to 
improve the security situation in Gali.  He said that the 
violence in Gali benefits de-facto presidential 
representative for Gali Ruslan Kishmaria and other de-facto 
authorities by keeping Georgians living in Gali intimidated 
and discouraging further return of IDPs to Abkhazia.  He 
categorized the violence as 50% criminal gangs targeting 
Georgian families (with the knowledge that neither the 
de-facto authorities nor the CIS PKF will arrest them) and 
50% Abkhaz militia units robbing Georgian families during the 
lucrative hazelnut and mandarin harvests. 
 
Recent attacks highlight ongoing Gali security concerns 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
3.  (C)  While reports of robberies targeting mandarin and 
hazelnut growers in Gali are not new, recent Georgian media 
reports have depicted cases of assault and torture targeting 
Georgians living in Gali, suggesting these attacks are 
ethnically motivated.  UNOMIG Senior Liaison Officer told us 
on March 25 that the Georgian media reports are often 
exaggerated or inaccurate and that there has been a slight 
decrease in the overall level of crime in Gali.  He 
acknowledged, however, that crime remains a serious issue for 
Gali residents and hampers further IDP return.  Two recent 
incidents highlight the ongoing security concerns for 
Georgians living in Gali.  On March 17, UNOMIG confirmed 
Georgian media reports that two masked men broke into the 
home of Gali resident Roman Agrbaia.  Agrbaia was robbed, 
beaten and burned with a hot iron and later died from his 
wounds.  On March 22, UNOMIG reported a carjacking against 
Gali resident Boris Baghaturia and wife, where two masked men 
stole his car (a 24 year-old Lada), 1,500 Rubles (about USD 
60) and a wedding ring.  Baghaturia was apparently struck in 
the head with a rifle, but did not suffer serious injury. 
The Georgian media reported on the Agrbaia crime fairly 
accurately but alleged torture in the Baghaturia case that 
UNOMIG could not confirm. 
 
IDPs' concerns: security, harassment, property loss 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
4.  (C)   Many of the IDPs we have spoken with have been 
nearly unanimous in their desire to return to Abkhazia, but 
many fear for their safety should they return.  They said 
they not only feared criminal attacks, but also harassment by 
Abkhaz police and forced conscription of their male relatives 
into the Abkhaz militia (reftel).  It is because of these 
fears that many of the estimated 40,000 IDPs who have 
ostensibly "returned" to the Gali district have done so only 
on a seasonal basis, crossing over into Gali to tend to their 
hazelnut and mandarin crops in the summer months and 
returning to Zugdidi in the winter.  Harvest season is the 
riskiest period for these farmers, who not only have to fend 
off criminal gangs after their money but also have to avoid 
the local authorities, who frequently confiscate as much as 
half of a farmer's nut harvest as a "tax" payment to the 
de-facto authorities.  Many Gali residents fear that they 
could not safely take their hazelnuts out of Gali to sell, so 
they sell them to Abkhaz middlemen who export them to Russia 
for a large profit. 
 
TBILISI 00000527  002 OF 002 
 
 
 
5.  (C)  Abkhaz in Sukhumi are quite open about their 
hostility to Georgians.  They recall the outrages of the 
1992-93 war, but also betray ethnic prejudice as well.   On a 
September 2007 visit to Sukhumi, Embassy officers raised the 
possibility that Georgian drivers from the Embassy might 
bring Embassy officers to Abkhazia in th
e future.  De-facto 
deputy foreign minister Maxim Gunjia discouraged the idea, 
saying it was very likely our Georgian employees would be 
assaulted in the street if they came with us. 
 
6.  (U)  With few exceptions, IDPs have returned only to 
homes within pre-war boundaries of the Gali district (Note: A 
post-war Abkhaz territorial re-organization put small parts 
of this area in the Ochamchire and Tkvarcheli districts, 
permitting the Abkhaz to make the misleading claim that 
returns have occurred in three districts.  End note).  IDPs 
originating from the Sukhumi or Ochimchire districts have 
told us that even if they would risk returning, they have 
nothing to return to; their homes have been either destroyed, 
allowed to decay, or been illegally appropriated by Abkhaz or 
Russian citizens.  Any traveler to Abkhazia is immediately 
struck by the large number of empty shells of houses in Gali 
and Sukhumi.  The houses are evidence both of the large 
number of IDPs who are still absent from Abkhazia and of the 
difficulties in re-establishing them if they return. 
 
7.  (U)  The Abkhaz parliament has further complicated the 
property issue by passing a resolution in 2006 instructing 
Abkhaz courts to suspend all property cases filed by owners 
who had abandoned their property after 1993, allowing Russian 
and Abkhaz speculators to buy IDP property without fear of 
local prosecution.  The Georgian government has issued 
several warnings against the illegal purchase of property in 
Abkhazia and has threatened to sue Russia for illegal 
property transfers at the European Court of Human Rights in 
Strasbourg, using Cyprus cases as a precedent (Note: 
Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights against 
Turkey in the Cyprus case have confirmed that a states' 
interference with refugees' property rights, without 
compensation, is a violation of the European Convention on 
Human Rights. End note). 
 
Additional barriers to return 
----------------------------- 
 
8.  (U)  In addition to safety and security concerns, IDPs 
returning to Abkhazia face a number of additional obstacles 
that prevent them from fully participating in society.  In 
2005, the Abkhaz de-facto authorities passed a citizenship 
law that essentially disenfranchises all IDPs upon their 
return to Abkhazia.  The law defines an Abkhaz citizen as a 
person who has lived in Abkhazia no less than five years from 
the adoption of the "Act on the State Sovereignty of the 
Republic of Abkhazia" in 1999 (Note: Virtually all the 
remaining 240,000 IDPs would not qualify under this 
provision. End note) and forbids dual citizenship with any 
country except Russia.   Such strict residency requirements 
would exclude IDPs who return from participating in higher 
education and limit access to social and medical services 
unless they renounced their Georgian citizenship.  De-facto 
authorities also continue to strictly control education in 
Georgian, limiting instruction in the Georgian-language to 
ten schools in the lower Gali district while maintaining 
control over the curriculum. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
9.  (C)  Georgian IDPs' rights to return are guaranteed by 
several provisions of international law, including Article 13 
of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  These rights 
are further reinforced by several agreements, including the 
1994 Quadripartite Agreement on the return of refuges and 
displaced persons, signed by both the Abkhaz and Georgian 
sides, that call on the Abkhaz to provide for conditions 
allowing for the "safe, voluntary, and dignified" return of 
all IDPs.  The Abkhaz de-facto authorities have a clear 
obligation under these agreements to protect the safety of 
returned IDPs and to facilitate the return of those still 
displaced, obligations that they have clearly failed to 
fulfill.  Russia's responsibility, especially toward the 
property of IDPs, is another issue to be considered. 
PERRY

Wikileaks

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