Open-ended Georgia talks begin in Geneva

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Talks on post-crisis management following the brief August war between Georgia and Russia started today (15 October) in Geneva, with EU officials admitting that it will be difficult to find a solution.

Many more sessions will be needed before Russian troops leave South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two Georgian regions which broke away after the conflict, EU officials said. 

The format of the Geneva talks may also surprise diplomats, as the main players – Russia and Georgia – are represented at the rather low level of deputy foreign minister. This is due to controversy over the participation of representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in some parts of the talks (EURACTIV 03/10/08). 

On the peace brokers’ side, the UN is represented at the highest level, by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Also present are French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, representing the EU presidency, and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who chairs the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The US is represented by Assistant State Secretary Daniel Fried. 

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French state secretary for EU affairs, said the modalities of security and stability in the region would be the main problems to be tackled in Geneva, including the fate of displaced persons and the situations in the Upper Kodori gorge and the Akhalgori region. 

Speaking at the European Parliament, Jouyet said that Russian troops had left the territories adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia as demanded in the 12 September EU-brokered agreement. He said this was “an essential step”, but added that there was “no full retreat”. 

Jouyet said all the negotiations should take place “in respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia”. Meanwhile, Georgia claims that Russian troops remain in the Alkhagori district of South Ossetia and in the Kodori gorge in Abkhazia, in breach of the ceasefire agreement. 

There are now more than 330 EU observers in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Jouyet said, commending EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana for the speed of the deployment. 

A number of EU countries are highly critical of Russian moves to increase the number of its troops inside Abkhazia and South Ossetia despite having agreed to return to pre-conflict positions and levels. But Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov recently said that the military presence inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia had not been discussed during talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and EU negotiators. 

Speaking to the press after meeting Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called the representatives of South Ossetia at the Geneva talks “criminals” and “ethnic cleansers”. He refused to treat both regions envoys to the Geneva talks as legal representatives. 

“What is Abkhazia’s population? Abkhazia’s population was 600,000 people. Now how many are left? Eighty thousand. Where are the others? […] These are not individual entities. Like Sudetenland was never an individual entity,” said Saakashvili, referring to the western part of the former Czechoslovakia annexed by Hitler in 1938. 

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