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Opinion: Georgia aspires to end Russian occupation

Two years after the Russians invaded, the Georgian government has a plan to reunify its people.

damaged building in Georgia
A damaged building in Gori, some 80 kms west of Tbilisi in Georgia, Sept. 4, 2008. The brief war between Georgia and Russia in 2008 displaced up to 50,000 people, according to the U.N. (Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images)

TBILISI, Georgia — Two years ago this Sunday, as Russian forces poured over Georgia’s internationally recognized borders into the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and beyond, a humanitarian crisis began to unfold.

Georgian civilians were driven from their homes and villages by advancing Russian troops. Although the war lasted only a few weeks, the suffering continues for thousands of Georgian citizens who remain unable to return home, as well as for those who continue to live under Russian occupation.

The European Union-brokered cease-fire that brought an end to open conflict between Russia and Georgia required Russia to work toward the safe and dignified return of all internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes. The cease-fire rejected the use of force as a means of altering borders in 21st century Europe and required Russian forces to withdraw to their pre-war positions and to respect Georgia’s territorial sovereignty.

As French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner recently made clear, "Russia has failed to meet certain paragraphs of the agreement.” But this cannot keep the government and the people of Georgia from working toward the goals laid out in the cease-fire.

In the two years since the war, the government of Georgia has made great progress in the necessary work of rebuilding our country and our economy and developing the democratic institutions that will sustain both. We have also embarked on a bold plan for reintegrating South Ossetia and Abkhazia back into Georgian democracy, even as Russia has moved to make permanent its illegal occupation of Georgian territory.

Though the government of Georgia does not control Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the international community recognizes the two areas as occupied Georgian territory — and we recognize that all those who live there, and all those who wish to return to their homes there, are entitled to the same rights and protections of Georgian citizenship as their compatriots living outside these occupied territories.

To this end — and in concert with civil-society organizations, NGOs, foreign governments and international organizations — the Georgian government has laid out a strategy for building economic and social partnerships between the populations living on both sides of the current boundaries. Through this program, and recognizing that there can be no military solution to this problem, we aim to achieve the voluntary reunification of communities that are now divided by checkpoints and barbed wire.