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Georgia: Foreign Minister Meets With Separatist Leader

By Goulnara Pataridze

Prague, 9 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Georgia's Foreign Minister Irakli Menagarishvili says he has visited the breakaway province of Abkhazia in an attempt to resolve a long-running conflict with separatists there, and to ensure the return of refugees.

Our correspondent in Tbilisi says Menagarishvili met yesterday in Abkhazia with separatist leader Vladislav Arbzinba. It is believed to be the first high-level trip of a Georgian official to the Black Sea province since separatists claimed independence in 1993.

Menagarishvili said today that the two men "continued a dialogue" toward a peaceful solution to the conflict. He said no progress had been made toward a settlement. However, the foreign minister said Arbzinba assured him that he is ready to meet Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze under the condition that "real decisions" be made.

The separatists' claim of independence led to 13 months of fighting that turned about 300,000 ethnic Georgians into refugees. Few of those refugees have been able to return because Abkhazians have effectively blocked their return.