TBILISI, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's chief negotiator with the country's breakaway regions has resigned to take up the post of deputy foreign minister, the prime minister's spokesman said Thursday.
"Merab Antadze has been transferred to the post of deputy foreign minister, and will be replaced at his post of state minister for conflict settlement by [lawmaker] David Bakradze," Georgy Chikvaidze said, confirming earlier television reports on the resignation.
Bakradze, head of a parliamentary committee on the ex-Soviet Caucasus state's integration into Europe, has pushed for international recognition of a Tblisi-backed "alternative government" for South Ossetia, which is under the de-facto control of a secessionist leadership led by President Eduard Kokoity.
Russia and South Ossetia - which along with Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after bloody conflicts in the early 1990s and have repeatedly called for their recognition by Moscow and eventually admission to Russia - have dismissed the authority as a "puppet government."
The situation in the conflict zone recently deteriorated over damage to water pipelines leading to South Ossetia. Gunfire was exchanged when Georgia started building a road in the area without consulting local authorities. Russian peacekeepers halted the construction, and urged for consultations between the sides.
Georgia's outspoken Western-leaning president, Mikheil Saakashvili, said in early June that Tbilisi would regain control of South Ossetia in the next few months.
Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili later said Tbilisi had "a number of interesting proposals for Russia," in exchange for its promise to break off contacts with the unrecognized region. The Russian media said the proposals could include a role for Russia as official guarantor of South Ossetia's future broad autonomy within Georgia.
Tbilisi also earlier said it would cease to block Russia's bid to join the WTO after Moscow honored its 2004 commitment to close down its border checkpoints with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In early July, Merab Antadze said Tbilisi had started drafting proposals for South Ossetia based on the autonomy model of South Tyrol, an ethnically mixed German-Italian region.
Bakradze's fellow lawmaker, Georgy Tsagareishvili, said: "The president trusts David Bakradze and has made a decision to appoint him, one of the most active deputies representing the majority, to this sensitive position."