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Top UN peacekeeper hopeful of resumption of talks in Georgian-Abkhaz conflict

17 February 2005 The top United Nations peacekeeping official has voiced optimism over a resumption of stalled talks between the Georgian Government and Abkhaz separatists in efforts to resolve a decade-old conflict that forced nearly 300,000 people to flee their homes.

"Although differences on substantive issues remain, I found a willingness on both sides to address them in a practical and pragmatic way," Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno said yesterday at the end of a visit during which he had held "constructive discussions" with leaders on both sides, who showed an openness to reengage and resume the peace process.

Talks between the sides were frozen for much of last year, in part due to protracted elections in Abkhazia, and no progress has been made on the core issue of the political status of Abkhazia within Georgia since the Abkhaz side has for the past several years invoked its unilateral "declaration of independence" of 1999.

Mr. Guéhenno said he was hopeful the openness he found would lead to more substantive exchanges and eventually produce concrete results in the three priority areas - political and security matters, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and economic cooperation.

He noted that a spring meeting in Geneva of the so-called Group of the Friends of the Secretary-General (Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), who are assisting in seeking a solution, provided a fresh opportunity for both sides to meet.

"I feel quite confident about the willingness of both sides to consider further steps towards a peaceful resolution," he added.

In his latest report on the situation last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) remained vital in preventing a flare-up of hostilities, and the Security Council extended its mandate for a further six months until 31 July, calling for a settlement that fully respected Georgia's territorial integrity.

UNOMIG, which consists of 130 uniformed personnel, including 119 military observers and 11 civilian police supported by 103 international civilian personnel and 184 local civilian staff, was established in 1994 after an accord reached in Moscow ended the fighting in Georgia's northwestern corner.

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