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18 Jul, 2008 18:08

Hopes remain for peace deal despite Abkhazian rejection

Russia has backed German proposals for a peace deal between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia, despite its rejection by the Abkhazian President. Moscow says it’s still hoping to bring the two sides to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

It follows a meeting between Russia's Foreign Minister and his German counterpart outside Moscow. Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Russia after his trip to Georgia and Abkhazia.

Abkhazia wants Georgia to withdraw its troops from the upper part of the Kodori gorge as a condition of any talks. Abkhazia's President Sergey Bagapsh said:

“I've told the German Foreign Minister: let’s not set too many goals now. First of all it's important to accomplish two things. I'm talking about the pullout of Georgian troops and sign a non-aggression agreement. And then we can start our discussion.”
Abkhazia's decision to break off contact with Georgian officials came after a series of blasts that occurred in the Abkhazian towns of Gagra, Sukhumi and Gali within the past few weeks.

At least a dozen people were injured, and four, including a member of the UN peacekeeping mission, died in the attacks. Abkhazia blamed Georgia for organizing them and shut the internal border. Georgia denied any involvement.

The tensions in the region have been gradually escalating ever since Georgia sent its armed forces to the upper part of the Kodori valley several years ago. Abkhazia says it violates peace

Russia sent additional peacekeeping forces to the republic in May this year fearing that Georgia, which has become the most highly militarised state in the region, could attack Abkhazia at any time.

Germany's attempts to ease the tensions in Abkhazia came a week after US state secretary Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia on July 9.

The German plan included the need to restore trust, to let refugees return to their homes and to give Abkhazia a legitimate political status.

The problem is that the positions of Abkhazia and Georgia differ on these issues.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, who was in favour of the proposal, criticised Abkhazian authorities for the rejection.

“Such statements from Abkhazia is not news,” he said. “No-one has had any illusions that Abkhazians will take any peace settlement process positively right away. However, I'd like to stress that this is an ongoing diplomatic process and it's very important that European states play such an active part in it.”

Meanwhile Russian officials have given their reaction to recent developments.

“The plan put forward by Germany is absolutely right, it embraces all sides of the problem” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

He added that some parts of the proposal cannot be completed until Georgia and Abkhazia restore trust, and believes the issue of Georgian refugees is a complicated one which will take time to resolve.

Even though Berlin's plan has been rejected by Abkhazia, the Germans are not planning to give up and hope a peaceful resolution can be found.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “We have come here without any illusions. We know that in the situation between Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia there cannot be an easy solution. It can’t be found in one night. That’s why we propose a step-by-step approach to solve this conflict.”

Abkhazia has remained a conflict zone for more than 15 years, despite the efforts of many countries, including Russia, Germany and the U.S., to broker peace.