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Georgian opposition MP slams govt. over refugees

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TBILISI, June 29 (RIA Novosti) - A member of an opposition faction in Georgia's parliament criticized Thursday the government for refusing to open a dialogue with refugees returning to the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

A group of refugees gathered earlier Thursday on the border between the region of Adjaria, where they had lived for 14 years, and Abkhazia in protest against eviction from hostels in the Adjarian capital, Batumi, where they escaped to after bloody fighting broke out in Abkhazia in the early 1990s.

The hostels were recently sold to Kazakh investors and the refugees had been offered $7,000 as compensation, which they claim was not enough to secure alternative accommodation.

"To throw people who once lost everything onto the street without any means is immoral," Georgi Tsagareishvili said. "Instead of finding a common language with these people, the government has chosen a different solution."

The MP said he did not see any alternative for the refugees other than to return to their homeland, "even though even this option is uncertain."

Speaker of the Georgian parliament Nino Burjanadze, who earlier called the refugees "traitors" for choosing to return to the self-proclaimed republic, and Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli have refused to meet with the protestors.

The refugees claim that they have been forced to return to Abkhazia because of their desperate situation.

"The main goal of our action was to attract the global community's attention to severe violations of refugees' rights," one said. "We acted in this manner not because we wanted to surrender to the separatist authorities in Abkhazia, but because of the way our government had treated us."

The Georgian Ministry for Refugees Affairs earlier said that 1,700 out of 1,970 families that had found refuge in Adjaria agreed on the compensation paid by investors. But the remaining refugees decided to return to Abkhazia and some even claimed they wanted to apply for Russian citizenship.

"We tried to talk to authorities both in the autonomy (Adjaria) and Tbilisi about increasing the compensation, but nobody pays attention to us," they said. "That is why we decided to return to the place we came from. We must have a home somewhere after all."

But president of the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh said the exodus of refugees from Ajaria could be another provocation on the part of the Georgian authorities aimed to destabilize the situation in the region.

"It [the current situation] can lead to unpredictable consequences," Bagapsh told a news conference.

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