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Russia, Georgia not geared towards conflict - Lavrov-1

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Russia's foreign minister said both his country and neighboring Georgia want to prevent a deterioration in relations in the wake of recent incidents in two Georgian breakaway republics.
(Adds Lavrov's quotes, details and background in paras. 2, 4-11)

NEW YORK, September 28 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said both his country and neighboring Georgia want to prevent a deterioration in relations in the wake of recent incidents in two Georgian breakaway republics.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been marred by incidents involving Russian peacekeepers stationed in the Georgian conflict zones.

On August 29, Georgia detained three peacekeepers from the joint forces' North Ossetian battalion. Although one of them was released, two were sentenced later to two months imprisonment. Moscow has since constantly called on Tbilisi to release them.

"Both Russia and Georgia have a common desire to prevent a worsening of bilateral relations, including the situation in the South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflict zones," Sergei Lavrov said, following talks with his Georgian counterpart Gela Bezhuashvili at the UN.

The Russian minister said the issue of the release of the two detained peacekeepers in South Ossetia had been thoroughly discussed at the meeting with his Georgian counterpart, and added that Russia is paying particular attention to the issue of continued 'provocations' in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The provocations, he said, were politically motivated, and included the formation of alternative government structures as well as being of a "militaristic, forceful nature, including murder."

According to Russia's Foreign Ministry, on September 20 a Georgian special forces unit crossed the border into Abkhazia and attacked servicemen at a military base belonging to the anti-terrorist center of the Abkhazian Interior Ministry.

The Abkhazian Defense Ministry said two soldiers were killed, at least four wounded, and several servicemen abducted as a result of the Georgian raid, while Georgia claims that a raiding party from Abkhazia attacked Georgian guards protecting a road being built in the Kodori Gorge, which lies in upper Abkhazia on the de facto border between Georgia and the breakaway republic.

"I have confirmed the necessity of a thorough investigation into the incidents at an OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] level in South Ossetia and at a UN level in Abkhazia," Foreign Minister Lavrov said.

There have been frequent and mutual accusations of ceasefire violations from both Abkhazia and Georgia, whose President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to regain control of the region. Peace talks broke off when Tbilisi sent troops into Kodori Gorge in July last year and established an alternative Abkhaz administration there.

The presence of Russian peacekeepers in the region as part of joint peacekeeping forces has angered Tbilisi, which demands more extensive international involvement. On Thursday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's demanded a change in the format of talks on Abkhazia, and the replacement of Russian peacekeepers in the republic with "neutral forces" that would maintain peace rather than the "unjust status quo."

South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia following a bloody conflict that left hundreds dead in 1991-1992, and peacekeepers have been stationed in the region ever since.

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