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Georgia: Shevardnadze Willing To Meet With Secessionists

Tbilisi, 19 August 1996 (RFE/RL) - Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze today expressed his willingness to meet with the leaders of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia -- two regions of the Caucasus nation embroiled in conflicts with Tbilisi.

Shevardnadze, speaking on Georgian radio, denied reports that a possible meeting with South Ossetian leader Ludwig Chibirov had been postponed. The South Ossetians sought to secede from Georgia in hopes of uniting with the North Ossetian Republic of the Russian Federation. Negotiations have stalled over repatriating Georgian and Ossetian refugees.

Shevardnadze also reiterated his readiness to meet with the leader of the secessionist region of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba.

Separatists in Abkhazia forced out Georgian forces in 1993 after 13 months of fighting.

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in both regions to enforce fragile peace agreements. Last week, the Russian peacekeeper mandate in Abkhazia was extended until January 31, 1997.