Georgia-Russia talks off to a shaky start

The first high-level talks between Russia and Georgia since their war broke down on Wednesday.

The delegations from Russia and its allies in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia left the talks before their scheduled end. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said the delegation would explain at a news conference later.

”They no longer continue to talk,” said United Nations spokesperson Elena Ponomareva. ”They are finished.”

European Union representative Pierre Morel said the talks had ”encountered procedural difficulties” and all parties decided to suspend the meeting. He said they will meet again on November 18.

Russia arrived 50 minutes late for the opening of the talks, underscoring its objection to the exclusion of representatives from the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A half-hour later, when the meeting moved to a format that included the representatives of the regions, the Georgian delegation left.

Tbilisi considers both regions to be part of Georgia, but Russia has recognised them as independent countries.

Sessions apparently continued with one party or the other absent until mid-afternoon.

The one-day talks, hosted by the EU, the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, were meant to cover ”security and stability arrangements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in keeping with the ceasefire between Russia and Georgia”, said Dick Wilbur, spokesperson for the US mission to UN organisations in Geneva.

Issues were to include ”compliance with the ceasefire, security issues, the return of internally displaced persons and human rights”.

The talks received high-level attention from Washington, represented by a delegation headed by Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried.

It had been expected that the talks — held under tight security in the European headquarters of the UN — would continue with meetings about every two weeks.

The five-day war broke out on August 7 when Georgian forces launched an attack to regain control of South Ossetia. Russian forces repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia.

The talks were organised to follow up on the ceasefire mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that ended the fighting.

Originally, senior ministers were expected in Geneva for substantive discussions. Diplomats said the meeting was downgraded because of differences over the participation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Sean McCormack, spokesperson for the US State Department, told reporters in Washington that Russia appeared to have complied with the September 8 ceasefire requirements on deployment of its troops in and around Abkhazia, but that issues remained concerning Russian troop numbers under an earlier ceasefire. He added there were still questions concerning South Ossetia.

Pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has cultivated close ties with Washington and pushed to bring his nation into Nato, a proposal strongly opposed by Russia.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the EU presidency, and co-host UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had a dinner in Geneva on Tuesday evening, but they left before the talks got under way.

Ban was represented at the talks by his new Georgian envoy, Johan Verbeke. — Sapa-AP

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