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22 Jul, 2008 01:34

Russia and Georgia clash at UN

Members of the United Nations Security Council have been unable to reach a decision on the incursion into Georgian airspace by Russian planes in the beginning of July.

Moscow said the flights, on July 9, were necessary to prevent an alleged invasion by Georgian troops of its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russia has serious concerns over rising tensions in the region. The Security Council session is the latest effort to try to defuse growing tension in the region.

Earlier this month, residential areas of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, came under heavy artillery fire from Georgian troops.

Tbilisi says it was just responding to an earlier attack – tensions rose, until the South Ossetian authorities claimed that Georgia was poised to launch a full-scale offensive.

Russia says it prevented the invasion by sending planes on a reconnaissance mission over the breakaway region. Georgia's reaction was prompt – it recalled its ambassador from Moscow.

Abkhazia also on the agenda

The plight of another breakaway republic, Abkhazia, was also discussed.

The Abkhazian leadership has also spoken of the risk of imminent invasion. Russia has responded by sending additional peacekeeping units to the republic.

Several years ago, Georgia deployed troops in the upper part of the Kodori gorge, which Abkhazia says is a violation of peace agreements.

In early July, a series of blasts shook the Abkhazian towns of Gagra, Sukhumi and Gali, killing four, including an interpreter of the UN mission, and injuring at least a dozen people.

Abkhazia blamed Georgia for organising the attacks but Tbilisi denied any involvement.

Fifteen years ago, after a violent conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia claimed thousands of lives, Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the region. Later, the UN also offered its help.

And although both are still stationed in the area, there is often trouble in the frozen conflict zone. Tbilisi says it wants to peacefully reintegrate Abkhazia and its other breakaway region of South Ossetia. Yet it refuses to sign a treaty prohibiting the use of force.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said: “Georgia stands for a peaceful settlement of this conflict, although it is contrived. The ceasefire agreement works. The real problem today is not that we are going to use force against our own people which we have never done and never will. What we see now is an accelerated process of the annexation of Georgia.”

International delegations, including U.S. State Department representatives and high-ranking German diplomats, have tried to coax Abkhazia back to the negotiating table.

Last week, Germany put forward a three-step plan, according to which the sides would rebuild trust, ensure the return of refugees and settle Abkhazia's status. But the de facto authorities in Sukhumi say Tbilisi should withdraw its troops first.

In the meantime, many in Georgia’s breakaway regions have opted for Russian citizenship and are using the Russian rouble as currency.

Railway troops on their way out

Russian railway troops are to complete their mission in Abkhazia and are due to leave the breakaway republic early next month, according to the Russian Defence Ministry.

Russian servicemen have repaired some 50 kilometers of railway track destroyed during the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict in the early 1990s.

The troops were sent to the breakaway republic in May.

The move follows the Russian president's decree to support Georgia's unrecognised regions – a decision condemned by Tbilisi.