Moscow, 10 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The president of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region warned today that a pullout of Russian peacekeepers from the self-proclaimed republic could lead to a new outbreak of hostilities.
Vladislav Ardzhinba, in Moscow for consultations with Russian officials, told Itar-tass that a pullout would destabilize the entire region. He also said that in the case of a Russian withdrawal, they could be replaced by "peacekeeping batallions of Caucasian nations".
Top Russian officials met today with Ardzhinba at the Kremlin and called again for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev were among those participating in the meeting.
Russia has had some 2,500 troops patrolling the border between Georgia and Abkhazia since 1994, a year after Georgian troops fled fighting with Abkhaz separatists. Georgia has demanded Russian troops leave when their mandate expires July 31. Abkhazia insists they remain in the region.