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Russia says West is blocking UN resolution on Georgia peace deal

RIA Novosti

17/07/2008 14:37 MOSCOW, July 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said on Thursday that Western nations are blocking Moscow's plans for a non-violence pact between Georgia and its rebel region of Abkhazia by insisting on the return of Georgian refugees.

Russia had presented a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for a deal on the non-use of force between Georgia and Abkhazia, amid rising tensions and fears of military conflict. The return of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia had been proposed in a Germany-sponsored peace plan and sought by Tbilisi.

Sergei Lavrov said work on the peace deal "was blocked yesterday by the categorical refusal of our Western partners," who want to link the document "to the return of refugees, which at this stage is entirely unrealistic."

"Signing an agreement on Georgian refugees' return to Abkhazia is impossible at the moment, as the situation first needs to be improved and trust restored. Only then can subsequent discussions be held on the matter," he said.

Russia had earlier also demanded that Georgia first withdraw troops from the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, occupied in 2006 in violation of a 1994 ceasefire agreement.

Germany has proposed a three-stage plan for resolving the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict. Germany says all sides must renounce violence and ensure Georgian refugees' gradual return to the region.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is currently in Tbilisi discussing the plan with Georgian leaders. He will fly to Abkhazia on Friday, and later that day arrive in Moscow for further talks.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has also set refugees' return as a condition to restart peace talks with Abkhazia, which broke away after the Soviet Union's demise in 1991. He also demanded that Russia withdraw its peacekeepers from the conflict zone and end financial support for the region.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have sunk to a new low recently, with outbreaks of violence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's other rebel region. The two countries have traded accusations of provoking violence in the provinces.

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