Nov 20, 2006

Abkhazia: Troops Must Withdraw Before Talks

Abkhazia's leader said Friday that he will not restart talks with Georgia until it withdraws its troops from the Kodori Gorge.

Below is an article published by RIA Novosti:

MOSCOW - Abkhazia's leader said Friday the breakaway region will not restart talks with Georgia until it withdraws its troops from the Kodori Gorge, the only Tbilisi-controlled area in the un-recognized republic.

Abkhazia, which along with South Ossetia broke away from Georgia following a bloody war in the 1990s, suspended peace talks after Tbilisi sent troops into the Kodori Gorge, in what it called a 'police operation' to disarm a rebellious militia leader.

Sergei Bagapsh said, "The negotiating process stalled through the fault of Georgia. The process will not resume until [Georgian] troops have been withdrawn from the Kodori Gorge."

The UN Security Council voiced its concern over the events in Kodori, and urged Georgia against provocations in the region, in a resolution passed in October. The document also urged Georgia to seriously consider Abkhazia's legitimate concerns, and to avoid militant rhetoric.

The Kodori Gorge in northern Georgia is controlled by Abkhazia in its lower half and Tbilisi in its upper half.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has vowed to reunite the breakaway territories with Georgia, earlier dismissed accusations that Tbilisi has scuppered peace talks.

"The talks were not frustrated by Georgia. We are ready to resume talks without any preliminary conditions and in a situation acceptable to all sides," he said.

The president said Tbilisi wanted to resolve the conflicts through peaceful dialogue, and denied that Georgian troops are deployed in the Kodori Gorge: "Abkhazia's legitimate government, guarded by the police, is staying there," he said.

In September, he attended a ceremony to unveil the administrative center of the pro-Georgian "Abkhazian government in exile" in the community of Chkhalta in the gorge, in a move denounced by Sukhumi.

Bagapsh said Abkhazia is only prepared to start talks on the Kodori Gorge and Georgia's compliance with the Russia-sponsored UN Security Council resolution.

The president of South Ossetia said his republic is prepared for dialogue with Tbilisi.

"Along with Abkhazia, we are drafting a joint appeal to the Georgian president, if Georgia gives its consent to hold a meeting," Eduard Kokoity said, also adding that both self-declared republics are reaffirming their intention to sign a memorandum not to use force with Georgia.

He said South Ossetia respects Georgia's territorial integrity.

"We have respect for Georgia's territorial integrity, but Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not related to Georgia," he said.

The breakaway region voted overwhelmingly for independence at a referendum Sunday, which was supported by Moscow, but not recognized by Georgia or Western countries.

South Ossetia has also stated its desire to join the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia, with which it is ethnically and historically connected. The majority of people in South Ossetia already hold Russian passports, and the Russian ruble is widely used.