Georgia leader ready to resume talks on Abkhazia, S. Ossetia

Georgia Materials 4 November 2006 13:20 (UTC +04:00)

(RIA Novosti) - Georgia's president said Friday Tbilisi is ready to resume talks on its conflicts with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia without any preliminary conditions.

Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, said in a statement Thursday that they would meet with Mikheil Saakashvili if Georgia withdraws its troops from the Kodori Gorge, the only Tbilisi-controlled area in Abkhazia, as well as from the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone, and ceases all activities that destabilize the situation, reports Trend.

Saakashvili said during a world forum on national and global security in Monaco: "The talks were not frustrated by Georgia. We are ready to resume talks without any preliminary conditions and in a situation acceptable to all sides."

He said Tbilisi wanted to resolve the conflicts by means of a peaceful dialogue and denied that Georgian troops are deployed in the Kodori Gorge.

"Abkhazia's legal government, guarded by the police, is staying there," he said.

The Kodori Gorge in northern Georgia, which is controlled by Abkhazia in its lower half and Tbilisi in its upper, has been at the center of renewed tensions between Tbilisi and Sukhumi since late July, when Georgia conducted what it called a police operation there to disarm a rebellious militia leader.

In September Saakashvili took part in an unveiling ceremony of the administrative center of the pro-Georgian so-called Abkhaz government in exile in the community of Chkhalta, in the Kodori Gorge, a move denounced by Sukhumi.

On Monday, Saakashvili proposed direct talks between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Kokoity rejected the proposal the next day, saying the recent intrusion onto South Ossetian territory by armed Georgian militants made talks impossible.

On Monday, South Ossetian authorities said a group of four heavily armed terrorists was spotted in the breakaway region's Dzhava district, having infiltrated from Georgia. They opened fire on police during an identification check and were killed in the ensuing firefight. Georgian authorities denied any knowledge of the group.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, unleashing bloody conflicts in the region. Russia mediated ceasefire agreements between the sides and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the conflict zones ever since.

Bagapsh and Kokoity praised a statement the Georgian foreign minister, Gela Bezhuashvili, made Tuesday, that "Russia should be one of the positive players in the resolution of the conflicts."

The leaders also said in the statement that Georgia was unilaterally revising and violating obligations it had assumed, and was ignoring recommendation from the UN Security Council.

"In this regard, any bilateral agreements lose all their meaning," the statement said. "The conflicts can be resolved and tensions in the region eased only through negotiations."

Saakashvili also said Georgia will not impose sanctions against Russia and is interested in developing good-neighborly relations with Russia.

"We see no reasonable causes, which could prevent our relations with Russia from improvement," he said, adding that the Georgian leadership is not "crazy" and does not want to create problems.

Georgia and Russia have been entangled in a diplomatic feud that erupted with the arrests of four Russian officers on spying charges in September. Although they were soon released, Russia has since cut transport and mail links to its mountainous ex-Soviet neighbor, cracked down on businesses allegedly related to the Georgian mafia, and deported hundreds of Georgians accused of residing in Russia illegally.