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Georgia Offers Plan To Lure Back Rebel Regions


TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgia has offered Abkhazia and South Ossetia help with travel, trade, and health care under a reintegration plan that the Russian-backed rebel regions said was more about impressing the West.

The Black Sea region of Abkhazia and the mountain territory of South Ossetia broke away from Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and were recognized by Russia as independent states after a war with Georgia in August 2008.

Calling for their "annexation" to be reversed, a government paper outlined a "human-centric policy" of engagement with Abkhaz and Ossetians by offering support for travel and enterprise and access to education and health care.

But with no access to either region since the 2008 war and no official contact besides low-level security discussions in Geneva that have produced few results, it was unclear how Georgia would bring the plan to life.

Backed militarily and financially by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia say they have no need of the Georgian state.

"The intent of the Strategy is to promote interaction among the divided populations of Georgia, currently separated by occupation lines, and to ensure that residents of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia enjoy the rights and privileges available to every citizen of Georgia," it stated.

The government said it would offer to extend healthcare and social security benefits and enable travel, study and trade abroad within the bounds of Georgian law.

Abkhazia said it would have nothing to do with the Georgian government of President Mikheil Saakashvili "until it changes its policy toward us."

"We saw their idea of reintegration in August 2008," Nadir Bitiev, an adviser to Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, told Reuters. The strategy paper, he said, "is directed at other international structures they have to report to, to look good."

In a five-day war, Russia crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia launched after days of clashes between Georgian and rebel forces and years of growing tensions between Moscow and U.S.-ally Tbilisi.

Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru followed Russia in recognizing the regions as independent.

Russian security forces control the de facto borders of both regions, which are dependent on Russia for state aid and trade. A majority of their people hold Russian passports.

The strategy paper renounced any military solution and said the proposed measures would not undermine Georgian sovereignty. They would be carried out in line with a law banning economic activity in the territories without Georgian permission.

The ban has effectively limited the market to Russian businesses and last year saw Georgian coast-guard patrols seize several Turkish-operated ships trying to trade with Abkhazia.
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