Moscow warns against pulling peacekeepers out of Abkhazia
17/06/2008 14:06 MOSCOW, June 17 (RIA Novosti) - The withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces from Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia will aggravate the situation and provoke a wider conflict in the Caucasus, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
Commenting on Tbilisi's proposal that the status of the peacekeeping operation in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone be reviewed, Andrei Nesterenko said that the move could "unfreeze" the conflict, while the situation in the Caucasus as a whole could "slip out of control."
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has told national television Tbilisi could at any moment raise the issue of the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers.
Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Georgy Baramidze said earlier on Tuesday his country would bring up the issue of replacing Russian peacekeepers with an EU police force at an international security conference in Rome, June 17-23.
"We want to tell our European friends about our plans for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the Georgian region of Abkhazia, which necessitates a change in the current negotiating format and the replacement of the Russian peacekeepers by an EU non-military police contingent," he said.
Baramidze will address the conference on June 20.
Moscow said on Tuesday Georgia's investigation into the recent downing of a reconnaissance drone over its breakaway province of Abkhazia was biased and flawed.
The unmanned Georgian surveillance plane was shot down over Abkhazia on April 20. Georgia claimed that the plane had been shot down by the Russian Air Force and that the incident was an act of Russian aggression.
"We still have some doubts over the authenticity of evidence handed over to the UN observer mission by Georgia," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
A U.S. delegation from a NATO group arrived in Abkhazia Monday on a two-day visit to try and restart talks between the breakaway region and Georgia, broken off in 2006.
The members of the Atlantic Council, a non-profit organization which provides information about NATO, are scheduled to meet with Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh and Prime Minister Alexandr Ankvab, along with other high-ranking officials.
Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed in the subsequent hostilities. The two sides signed a ceasefire in 1994 in Moscow.
Peace talks between Abkhazia and Georgia broke off in July 2006 when Tbilisi sent troops into Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge and established an alternative Abkhaz administration there.
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