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Georgia: Diplomats Meet To End Abkhazia Conflict

Geneva, 23 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Diplomats from Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia are to meet face-to-face in Geneva today to discuss ways of settling the conflict there.

The three-day meeting is being held under UN auspices. Delegates from the United States, Russia , France, Germany and Britain will also participate.

Itar-Tass today quotes Russian diplomat Gennady Ilyichev -- who will take part in the talks -- as welcoming the role of the UN in trying to find a solution to the Abkhazian conflict.

However, he said the talks will not discuss the status of Abkhazia within Georgia. Nor are the talks expected to settle the question of extending the mandate of CIS peacekeepers, which expires at the end of next week. Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in 1993 and rebels chased Georgian troops out after a bloody conflict.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat said a delegate from the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also will participate in the conference of the so-called Friends of Georgia.

Eisenstat said conditions in South Ossetia are relatively stable and hopeful, but the situation in Abkhazia is not as good. He said there has been little progress towards a settlement and formal peace since a Russia-mediated ceasefire in 1994.

Eisenstat spoke about the Geneva meeting at a hearing yesterday on U.S. policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Several senators expressed concern that Russian peacekeeping troops remain in Georgia against the will of the authorities. Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze has proposed they be replaced with a United Nations peacekeeping force. The U.S. says it supports the initiative.