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Georgia: Abkhazia Tensions Still High After EU, U.S. Visits

Russia sent additional troops to Abkhazia in mid-April (ITAR-TASS) Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow remain tense over Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia following a visit to Georgia by a European Union delegation and a top Washington envoy.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza traveled to the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi over the weekend in a bid to break the deadlock. He held talks with Sergei Shamba, the de facto foreign minister of Abkhazia's self-proclaimed government.

Shamba told RFE/RL's Georgian Service on May 13 that Abkhazia's conditions for dialogue with Tbilisi are unchanged. "The Americans and we believe that there is a chance to resume the dialogue," he said. "It is our position that Georgia must comply with the signed agreement, which means first and foremost that Georgia must withdraw troops from the Kodori Gorge and end provocative actions."

Abkhazia has been running its own affairs and developing ties with Moscow since it broke away from the central Georgian government in a war in the early 1990s.

Russia's support for Abkhazia and another Georgian breakaway province, South Ossetia, has irked Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has pledged to reestablish control over both regions.

Shamba stressed that peace talks were excluded as long as Tbilisi refuses to pull troops out of the Kodori Gorge, which serves as the de facto border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. "There can be no compromise here. We have signed more than one document saying the Kodori Gorge must be demilitarized," Shamba said.

Officials in Georgia showed equally little willingness to compromise.

Nikoloz Rurua, a powerful ally of Saakashvili and the deputy chairman of the Georgian parliament's Committee for Defense and Security, said that Georgia cannot be guided by Abkhazia's "world view and their judgment criteria, because they are an illegal entity and therefore most of their demands, unfortunately, are irrational. Therefore we cannot follow their logic."

"These groundless demands have one aim," Rurua continued. "As long as these kinds of demands are put forward by separatist groups, a real, rational dialogue with the potential of mutual compromise will never take place."

Speaking to a delegation of EU ministers in Tbilisi on May 12, Saakashvili condemned European nations for failing to oppose the Soviet Union's absorption of Georgia in 1921 and called on Europe not to "repeat this mistake."

Tensions over Abkhazia flared up in mid-April after Moscow announced it was boosting ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It then sent extra peacekeeping forces to the region, accusing Tbilisi of preparing a military assault on the breakaway region.

Abkhazia claims to have downed seven Georgian unmanned spy planes over its territory in recent weeks, including two on May 12. Georgia has only acknowledged one such incident on April 20.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent Eka Tsamalashvili contributed to this report

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