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10 May, 2008 16:01

U.S. to help settle Georgian-Abkhazian conflict

A U.S. delegation is in the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi following talks with Georgian ministers. The main aim of the visit, they say, is to help the two sides find a peaceful solution. The diplomats have also held talks with Abkhazia's president Sergey Baga

Both the Georgian and the Abkhazian sides are said to have expressed major concern about recent incidents at the unofficial Georgian-Abkhaz border, along with the build-up of troops in the area.

The visit comes amid claims by Abkhazia that it shot down another Georgian unmanned spy plane on Thursday. Tbilisi has denied the report, calling it a provocation.

Fearing that Georgia is planning a new military operation against Abkhazia, Russia, which has had a peacekeeping force in the region since 1992, has upped its military presence. Moscow says its number of troops does not exceed 3,000, in line with international agreements.

But Abkhazia still says a military invasion from Georgia is likely, and voiced its fears at the talks with the U.S. diplomats.

“We know that Georgia's started armed conflicts a number of times. Whenever it's suffered overwhelming defeat, the country's always looked for guilty third parties. We understand that this has always meant Russia. So when we hear things like that it sounds very familiar to us. We are concerned about this process and we obviously don’t want to wage war, as any war would happen on our territory,” Abkhazia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Shamba said, following the first day of talks.

The talks have not concluded yet, but the American diplomats seem upbeat. They say that mediators may be able to help ease the latest tensions in Abkhazia.

The U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Matthew Bryza, said he hopes to ‘find a way to increase military transparency in the region’ working with Tbilisi and Moscow to ‘proceed with the real peace process’.

“We see something positive from these flights. They help the Georgian side also feel secure that there is no movement of equipment or soldiers into Abkhazia,” Bryza said when asked about the Georgian unmanned spy planes over Abkhazia.

After meeting with Abkhazia's top officials, the delegation went to Gagra – the breakaway republic’s second largest Black sea resort.

A second day of talks will be held in the border town of Gali, where tensions between Georgia and Abkhazia are particularly high.