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Russia, Georgia talks ‘difficult’ over refugees

Russia and Georgia agreed Thursday to hold a new round of talks here on December 16 despite a “difficult” session due to the absence of South Ossetians for talks on humanitarian issues, a mediator said.

“It’s been a difficult session, it can’t be denied,” said one of the international mediators, EU ambassador Pierre Morel, during a press conference.

Mediators from the European Union, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and United Nations are brokering the talks aimed at preventing another flare-up of violence after a brief war in August 2008.

“With a resolution on refugees being discussed today in the UN general assembly, the (South Ossetian) participants decided not to attend the working group’s talks on humanitarian questions which cover in particular the issue of refugees,” Morel said.

“The full participation of all the participants is essential to building trust,” he added.

In September, the UN general assembly backed a Georgian draft resolution on refugees from the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow criticised.

The Geneva talks have also been trying to deal among other things with humanitarian issues, including free movement for local residents in and out of the two regions.

The meeting between Georgians and Russians nevertheless had its positive note, Morel said, with mediators pleased to learn that the Perevi checkpoint controlled by Moscow would soon be shut.

The latest round of the confidence-building talks, which have sought to build channels of communication between military forces on the ground, came amid heightened tensions in the region.

Georgia last month accused Russian forces in South Ossetia of seizing territory beyond the boundaries of the region, which Moscow recognised as an independent state after the 2008 war there.

Tbilisi has also accused Russia of reinforcing its military presence in the two breakaway regions and breaching the ceasefire deal that ended their conflict.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Tbilisi’s control during wars in the early 1990s after Georgia gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

But it was after the five-day 2008 war that Moscow recognised the two regions as independent states.