Russia and Georgia agree to more talks in July

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Despite a temporary walkout by Moscow earlier, participants met Tuesday and had a ‘most substantial’ discussion in eight months.

Geneva – Russia and Georgia have agreed to meet again on 1 July despite a temporary walkout by Moscow this week that marred a fifth attempt to defuse tension between the two countries, mediators said Tuesday.

"The participants reached an agreement to meet again on 1 July," European Union representative Pierre Morel told journalists following the fifth round of security and humanitarian talks in Geneva.

All the participants, including the delegations from the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, returned to the negotiating room early Tuesday for a meeting that lasted a few hours.

"We had our deepest, most substantial discussion for eight months," said United Nations representative Johan Verbeke afterwards.

Shortly after they began on Monday, delegates from Russia and the Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia walked out of the talks aimed at resolving the spat between Russia and Georgia following their brief war last August.

Their move followed a boycott of the talks by their allies in the other breakaway region of Abkhazia.

The series of talks, which began last August, is being held under the joint auspices of the UN, the EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Abkhazia had boycotted the start of the latest discussions in protest over how the United Nations had described the region, but a new report by the UN appeared to placate those concerns.

The region has been referred to as Abkhazia, Georgia, which infuriated representatives of the Moscow-backed region since it implied the separatist-minded territory is part of Georgia.

Instead, the latest report from the UN observer mission in Georgia simply refers to "Abkhazia" or the "Abkhaz side," according to an unedited copy seen by AFP on Tuesday.

The rebellious regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are regarded by Russia as independent states but most of the world still recognises them as part of Georgia.

"Apparently the reactions to this report were rather positive," the diplomatic source said.

Before Monday's incident, diplomats were predicting little progress in the fifth encounter since last October.

But Morel enumerated several key areas of progress, including a renewed pledge to reengage on security measures on the ground to prevent flare-ups.

A security meeting between Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian officials – a key outcome of February's talks in Geneva -- was called off on 7 May because of disagreements about where it would be held.

Proposals were also tabled on the second key area, humanitarian issues, including the return of refugees.

The four parties also agreed to broach the controversial issue of free passage through checkpoints between separatist areas and Georgia at the next meeting in July.

But tensions in region remain high.

Earlier this month, Tbilisi accused Moscow of encouraging a mutiny by army officers on the eve of NATO exercises, touching off another round of recriminations.

On Tuesday the Russian and Georgian delegation were upbeat about the "frank" talks, but could not resist a few barbed remarks.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria accused Russia of threatening Georgia's "existence and sovereignty", while his Russian counterpart Grigory Karasin condemned Georgian attempts "to use any means" to regain control of "the lost territories".

Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia in August 2008 to repel a Georgian assault on South Ossetia and later partly withdrew under a ceasefire.

AFP / Expatica

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