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Russia-Georgia security talks dogged by wide gaps: mediators

International mediators acknowledged on Tuesday that despite tentative signs of progress in talks between Russia, Georgia and two breakaway regions there were still differences to be bridged.

After Russia and Georgia’s five-day war in August 2008 over South Ossetia, the talks were organised to try to prevent another flare-up of violence there, or over another breakaway Russian-backed rebel region, Abkhazia.

“The Geneva process, despite real difficulties… is continuing its advance,” European Union mediator Pierre Morel told journalists.

“We are starting to glimpse the possibility of qualitative progress in our work,” he added.

But they could not announce any concrete agreements after the latest session and Morel acknowledged “considerable gaps in positions” on a pledge on the non-use of force.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia 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 2008 conflict that Moscow recognised the two regions as independent states, and tensions have ebbed and flowed since then.

Morel said Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia were still insisting on an explicit agreement on the non-use of force by Georgia: Tbilisi says it has already made that commitment with the 2008 ceasefire accord.

Georgian first deputy foreign minister Giorgi Bokeria also underlined that Russia had pledged to withdraw its forces “and this part is not respected.”

Western countries including the United States and France have stepped up criticism of Russia’s continued military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in recent weeks.

Bokeria condemned the continued detention of eight “local residents” by opposing forces.

Despite these and other hurdles however, including free movement for local residents in and out of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the mediators praised the “business-like atmosphere” of the talks.

All sides agreed to meet again for further talks on October 14, the EU, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a joint statement.

Despite the lack of progress in the talks, the UN Special Representative for Georgia Antti Turunen said that the incident prevention mechanism established so far had weathered “serious incidents” in recent months.