Fri, Oct 17, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Russia, Georgia talks break down

THE BLAME GAME As the peace talks broke down the UN’s highest court ordered both sides to ensure the security of all ethnic groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

AGENCIES , BRUSSELS, THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS AND GENEVA, SWITZERLA

Internationally backed peace talks between Georgia and Russia broke down on the first day on Wednesday with the rivals, who fought a war in August, blaming each other for the failure to even enter the same room.

“There were two separate meetings, the Russians and the Abkhazians [in one] and the Georgians in another,” Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the pro-Russian separatist region of Abkhazia, told journalists.

The talks would have been the first time representatives of the two sides have held direct negotiations since the five-day war after Russia thwarted a Georgian assault to retake its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russia has kept troops in South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, and recognizes both as independent states.

Pierre Morel, an official for the EU, which organized the talks with the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, blamed “procedural difficulties” for the quick suspension of the negotiations.

Georgia said that Russia had refused to meet its delegation.

“It’s regrettable that the Russian Federation has put the process from the very beginning under severe constraints,” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, head of Georgia’s delegation, told journalists.

Russia would not take part in any further talks with Georgia if representatives from South Ossetia and Abkhazia were not invited, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said.

The US injected a third element to the breakdown, with its head of delegation Daniel Fried saying that it was the South Ossetians and Abkhazians who failed to exhibit a “constructive spirit” to keep talks going.

“Unfortunately ... the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia who were present at the meeting, I’m sorry to say did not exhibit such a constructive spirit — they chose instead to walk out of the informational session,” he said.

Meanwhile, EU leaders were set to delay yesterday a decision on when to restart talks with Russia on a stalled partnership pact, suspended after Russia’s incursion into Georgia in August, a draft statement showed.

The draft, due to be approved by leaders at the final session of a two-day summit, welcomed the withdrawal of Russian troops from buffer zones in Georgia, but fell short of saying that partnership talks could start again.

“The European Council is asking the [European] Commission and the Council [of foreign ministers] to continue a full in-depth evaluation of EU-Russia relations with a view to the forthcoming [EU-Russia] summit, scheduled to take place in Nice on Nov. 14,” said the final draft statement.

“It will be taken into account in the further negotiations for a new Partnership Agreement with Russia,” the EU draft statement said.

An earlier version had said that talks would resume next month, but EU President France failed to convince all its partners to agree to this.

In related news, the UN’s highest court ordered Russia and Georgia to ensure the security of all ethnic groups in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and adjacent areas of Georgia.

In a provisional ruling on a lawsuit filed by Georgia that alleged human rights violations by Russia in the region, the International Court of Justice said Georgia and Russia must refrain from sponsoring any act of racial discrimination.

The 15-judge tribunal ruled with eight votes to seven in favor of ordering both parties to do all in their power to ensure the security of persons, freedom of movement and the protection of refugees’ property. It also said Georgia and Russia must allow humanitarian aid to reach local populations.

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