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Abkhazia Sees Russia, Georgia Talks Taking Years

GENEVA (Reuters) -- Talks between Russia and Georgia, who fought a war in August, will take many years, the deputy foreign minister of Moscow-backed breakaway region Abkhazia said as the negotiations began.

"I expect a result in many, many years forward if we start today constructively," Abkhaz Deputy Foreign Minister Maksim Grinjia told reporters.

"It's a long process. We have to start one day," he said.

A first set of talks, brokered by the European Union and other international bodies, failed to get off the ground last month because of disagreements about whether representatives from South Ossetia and Abkhazia should take part, and how.

The talks are being held at the European headquarters of the United Nations, and a UN spokeswoman confirmed that the talks had started.

Grinjia said the talks would take place in working groups, rather than a formal plenary session, with officials taking part as representatives and not official delegations.

"We only expect that all sides will be as constructive as possible," he said.

Relations Remain Fraught

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war this year and relations between the two neighbors remain fraught over the two breakaway provinces which Moscow recognizes as independent states under its protection.

Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake South Ossetia, which had broken away in 1991-92.

Russia responded with a powerful counterstrike, driving the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia.

The United States, which sees Georgia as an ally in the volatile Caucasus, is also taking part in the talks with Russia, Georgia, and representatives from both sets of Moscow-backed and Tbilisi-backed administrations of the two regions.

Grinjia said the two working groups would discuss security guarantees and refugees.

The various parties met for an informal dinner on November 18.

"It was a nice dinner and a good atmosphere," he said.

But no one expects the talks to have quick results.

The mediators -- the European Union, United Nations, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- hope to gradually build confidence and ease the most pressing problems such as conditions for refugees and continuing violence in a series or repeated meetings.