US criticizes Russia visit to Abkhazia, South Ossetia

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The US State Department on Saturday criticized a recent visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the breakaway states Abkhazia and South Ossetia as "inconsistent" with Georgia's sovereignty.

Lavrov visited the leaders of the two breakaway regions on April 25-26.

"Russia's recent efforts to conclude formal state-to-state agreements with the 'de facto' authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia... are inconsistent with the principle of territorial integrity and Georgia's internationally recognized borders," said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.

During his visit to Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, the respective capitals of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Lavrov oversaw implementation of an agreement on visa-free travel for Russians to the regions and vice versa, the Russian foreign ministry said in Moscow.

Accords were also inked in South Ossetia for cooperation in transport and aviation safety and in Abkhazia on the establishment of cultural centers, it added.

Georgia and some of its leading Western allies describe Abkhazia as "occupied" by Russian forces, which are stationed there and patrol the disputed borderline.

Tbilisi insists that Abkhazia is an integral part of its territory but Moscow has recognized it and South Ossetia as independent states -- a move followed by Nicaragua, Venezuela and the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru.

Toner said the United States remained "committed to a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Georgia's separatist regions and the restoration of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders."

He also called on all parties in the conflict to "fully implement" their commitments under a 2008 ceasefire agreement.

Abkhaz separatists waged a civil war with Georgian forces in the 1990s after the break-up of the Soviet Union that killed several thousand people and left some 250,000, mostly ethnic Georgians, as refugees.

© 2011 AFP

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