Breakaway Abkhazia: troops out, Georgia tells Russia

Georgia’s parliament has demanded that Russian peacekeepers leave its two breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Deputies voted unanimously for their withdrawal and replacement by an international contingent.

Speaker Nino Burjanadze said Georgia was willing to strike peace deals with the breakaway regions in return for reliable international security guarantees, which, she said, Russia was unable to provide. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Georgia was deliberately disrupting mechanisms designed to resolve the conflicts.

The self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia is a popular tourist resort on the Black Sea. One of the few places in the former Soviet Union with a mild sub-tropical climate, Abkhasia is famed for growing oranges, mandarins and lemons. Its agricultural sector plays an important role in the republic’s economy. Tourism has also made its name, with resorts such as Gagra, Pitsunda and the capital, Sukhumi, popular during Soviet times. Rooms can still be rented in a small family hotel at a bargain price – rates start from just $U.S.5 a night.

Last summer, more than a million tourists visited Abkhazia. Most cars carried Russian licence plates and the rouble is the only currency accepted by local shops. But while visitor-numbers are expected to grow this summer, many tourists are still cautious. For it is just over a decade since the republic was torn apart by war.In the summer of 1992, the parliament of Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia. Two months later, thousands of Georgian troops entered the republic, sparking a conflict in which 17,000 lost their lives. More than 280,000 native Georgians fled their homes. CIS peacekeeping forces have maintained a ceasefire since 1993.