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Russia, Georgia To Seek Deal On Non-Use Of Force

GENEVA (Reuters) -- Russia and Georgia have agreed to work towards an agreement on how to deal with each other without resorting to force after their war a year ago over two breakaway Georgian regions.

But senior officials from the two countries disagreed sharply on September 17 about how international security arrangements could work, because of differences over the sensitive question of the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The two sides, who agreed to meet again on November 11, held their seventh round of talks in Geneva since fighting a five-day war in August 2008. The closed-door talks came amid fresh tension between Moscow and Tbilisi.

"This is a tough issue and therefore we had a difficult debate," UN mediator Johan Verbeke told a news conference after the talks.

The United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are jointly mediating talks to strengthen security in the region and resolve humanitarian problems arising from the war.

The three are trying to head off any further conflict in a region seen by the West as a key transit territory for Caspian gas and oil and by Russia as a historic sphere of influence.

The three co-chairs said in a statement that they would draft the basic elements of an agreement before the next round.

But deciding what sort of international presence that deal would mandate will be hard as the two sides disagree on whether the two regions are independent or part of Georgia.

That political question has already forced the UN and OSCE to phase out their monitors deployed in the region.

Russia has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and this week signed a deal to formally establish military bases in both provinces. Georgia sees them as territories occupied by Russia and says their administrations are proxy regimes.

Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Bokeria told a news conference the talks had failed to remove Russian forces from Georgian territory, where humanitarian abuses were continuing.

"We had very dangerous parallel with open and direct threats by Russian high officials...on the possible use of force against Georgian sovereignty, which of course is a very clear challenge by Russia to the very existence of the Georgian state," he said.

His Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin, condemned the "angry and aggressive rhetoric" of Georgia's leadership and warned it against trying to take back the regions by force.

"We are concerned with the new militarization of Georgia," he told a news conference.

"The use of force is unfortunately among the means that the Georgian authorities try to use in order to get what they can't get through political means," he said.