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Georgia, Russia talks "in full swing" co-chair
Tue May 19, 2009 10:25am EDT
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By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Georgia and Russia resumed security talks on Tuesday after mediators and a U.N. report helped nudge Moscow's negotiators back to the table, officials said.
All sides agreed to meet again on July 1 for talks intended to head off any further conflict in an area seen by the West as a key transit territory for Caspian gas and oil and by Russia as a historic sphere of influence.
"The process is in full swing and it today consolidated its working methods," Pierre Morel, special representative of the European Union for the crisis in Georgia and one of the international co-chairs of the negotiations, told a news conference after about 3-1/2 hours of talks.
The mediators acknowledged that the latest round of talks -- the fifth since they were launched following a brief war between Russia and Georgia in August -- had had a difficult start.
"Emotions are still raw and positions in some cases wide apart," said Charalampos Christopoulos, special envoy for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
"The discussions are crucial for the security and stability for Georgia, the Caucasus and the wider region," he added.
Delegations from Russia and the Moscow-backed rebel region of South Ossetia had withdrawn from the two-day talks in Geneva on Monday citing the refusal of another Moscow-backed rebel region, Abkhazia, to attend, due to a delay in a U.N. report.
In the report on the U.N. mission in Abkhazia, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said tensions between Georgia and Russia, who fought a brief war over South Ossetia in August, were weighing heavily on the region, an important transit territory for Western gas and oil deliveries to the West.
Talks to date had helped to maintain a "relative calm."
The report cites the official title of "United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia" but otherwise skates round the sensitive question of whether Abkhazia is part of Georgia or not.
"I hope that these efforts can lead to the establishment of a more stable security regime in the area," Ban said.
Tensions remain around areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, particularly Akhalgori in South Ossetia and the Kodori Gorge and Gali regions of Abkhazia.
The U.N. deploys 129 military observers, drawn from 30 states, and 16 police officers in Abkhazia.
Ban's report recommended that security zones with no armed forces or military equipment be enforced for 12 km (8 miles) on both sides of the ceasefire line, and restricted zones with no heavy military equipment for another 12 km on each side. Continued...
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