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27 Jun, 2008 23:42

'Plan to split Abkhazia is nonsense'

Moscow has denied claims that it's discussing dividing up Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia with the Georgian authorities. The allegations were made by the Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Kommersant has even published a map showing the sections that would be allocated to Georgia and Russia. Under the plan, the Gali and Ochamchira districts of Abkhazia would come under Georgian jurisdiction, while the rest would have broad autonomy with a strong Russian influence.

Abkhazian President lost for words

Returning home after his visit to Moscow, Abkhazian leader Sergey Bagapsh immediately explained that he was not having secret talks on carving up Abkhazia.

“It’s so stupid that I don't even know what to say on the subject,” he said.

The Kommersant article claims that Bagapsh discussed the secret plan on his visit to the Russian capital – a claim that has infuriated the Abkhazian:

“They've mapped it all out, I must say – the whole region, and the river. There's even a map showing all the strategic points. They say 'Bagapsh was urgently summoned to Medvedev to discuss the issue. Then he went to see Putin, who gave his approval.' I'm going to tell you right now – nothing of the kind has happened!” – Bagapsh said on his return to the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi.

Russia’s reaction

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also dismissed the story.

“It’s a lie. It’s totally untrue,” – he told the RIA Novosti news agency's website .

“As for the regular anti-Russia statements coming from the Georgian leadership, like the ones about Russia annexing Georgian territories, or that we are actually the reason for this conflict – they're attempts to reduce the real situation to what it’s not,” he also said.

Prolonged conflict

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1992. A violent conflict ensued. Russian peacekeepers and UN observers were deployed in the region. But an estimated 250,000 Georgians, who had been living in Abkhazia, had to flee their homes. Since then, Georgia has been trying to convince the self-proclaimed republic to return under its rule.

Tbilisi says it knows nothing about the plan published by the Russian newspaper.

Politicians in the Upper Abkhazia region, who are loyal to the Georgian government, say that Abkhazia is Georgian territory and shouldn’t be divided. They don’t accept the plan published by Kommersant either.

The head of the Abhkaz government in exile, Malkhaz Akishbaya, said they are in favour of a peaceful resolution.

“President Saakashvili has made it clear that for us territorial integrity is vital. This means that the displaced people should be able to return to their homes in safety. We would never consider settling the conflict in such a way.”

Several months ago Georgia increased its military presence in the region. Abkhazians claimed they feared a new invasion. In May the situation got so tense that Russia took the decision to increase the number of its peacekeepers to 2,500. Although this is still less than the maximum number allowed by mutual agreements, Tbilisi voiced discontent at the move and Georgian police have arrested and later released several CIS peacekeepers.

Yet despite these simmering tensions, a fragile peace in the region still holds. It looks like Abkhazia is firm in its decision to become a free and recognised state.