Post-war Georgia-Russia talks resume

International talks resumed on Wednesday in Geneva aimed at getting Russia and Georgia to bury the hatchet following August’s five-day war in the troubled north Caucasus.

A previous round of talks broke up in embarrassing failure last month when Russian and Georgian delegates failed to even sit down in the same room amid disagreements on the presence of delegates from Georgian rebel regions.

This time around the Georgian side had relented and allowed the presence of representatives from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Moscow-backed regions that were at the centre of the August 8 to 12 conflict, officials said.

“The participants are ready to sit at the same table” this time, said Maxim Gvinjia, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Abkhazian delegation.

“We are not going to discuss the status” of the two breakaway republics, but “we hope to have constructive discussions”, he told journalists.

Diplomats said they expected a better atmosphere than the acrimonious October talks, noting that the Russians and Georgians—whose delegations are both headed by their deputy foreign ministers—dined together on Wednesday night.

“They spoke to each other during the evening, even without intermediaries,” a European diplomatic source told Agence France-Presse.

Officials from the European Union and the United Nations, who are hosting the talks along with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), confirmed that negotiations had begun.

Diplomatic sources said that two separate working groups would be focusing on regional security and stability issues, and the plight of refugees and displaced people.

“The two working groups have started their work, everyone is there,” a UN spokesperson said.

It had been decided to go for an “informal approach so as not to offend any sensibilities”, a European diplomatic source said.

Georgia had objected to delegations from the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia—whose independence has been recognised by Moscow—because Tbilisi insists they are still part of Georgian sovereign territory.

Russian troops and tanks rolled into Georgia on August 8 to push back a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia.

Russia has since withdrawn from most of Georgia in line with an EU-brokered ceasefire, but Tbilisi is furious at the continued presence of 7 600 Russian troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, claimed on Tuesday that Russia had planned the conflict long in advance, pointing to a build-up of Russian troops and tanks in the region, and the completion in August of works on a railroad and a military base in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Tensions remain high in the region, and the French EU presidency earlier this week condemned recent violence that left at least three dead and endangered European observers.

A ceasefire brokered by the EU has been in place since August and EU monitors are patrolling areas near Abkhazia and South Ossetia but shootings and other security incidents remain frequent.—AFP

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