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    ABKHAZIA INSISTS ON ITS INDEPENDENCE FROM GEORGIA

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    GENEVA, April 23 (RIA Novosti) - Abkhazia (a self-proclaimed republic on the territory of Georgia) still sees itself as being independent from Georgia, Abkhasia's Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba said Friday in a RIA Novosti interview.

    "There are no political forces or even individual leaders in Abkhazia today who see the republic as part of Georgia-so there is no point even raising the issue running counter to our constitution. It lays down that we are an independent state. We are prepared to engage in talks from this position," he said.

    "The Georgian leadership has until recently tended to tackle this issue by use of force, which ruled out any constructive dialogue," said Shamba.

    The Abkhaz foreign minister noted the Georgian leaders' readiness to venture a new approach toward Georgian-Abkhaz settlement, which was formulated by the new Georgian minister of state on conflict settlement, Georgy Khaindrava, at a meeting in Geneva.

    "He (Khaindrava) was unambiguous in criticising the policy of the former authorities, saying that the new leaders are resolved to approach the issue from another position, not that of violence. Compromise will be welcomed, he said," noted the minister. "Further talks will indicate what kind of compromises these are, whether they are acceptable or not, whether they have anything to do with official policy or not." A two-day seminar on international security guarantees to Georgian-Abkhaz settlement has been over in Geneva this Friday. The meeting organised under the UNO aegis was attended by international experts, representatives of both sides in the conflict and the Russian ambassador at large, Mikhail Bocharnikov.

    The Geneva meeting was keynoted by the theme of trust between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides, according to Bocharnikov.

    "No specific inferences have been made, the more so as no such target was set. It is the on-going practices that were sounded out," said Bocharnikov.

    "Russia sees the current priority in establishing measures and atmosphere of confidence. It is only in this atmosphere that further progress toward a comprehensive settlement can be reached. But for the time being it is only in perspective," he noted.

    So far the Sochi accords have been the only mechanism enabling the attainment of practical success in Georgian-Abkhaz settlement.

    The Sochi agreements reached in March 2003 provide for the return of refugees, rehabilitation of through railway communication across Abkhazia and modernisation of the Inguri hydro power station cascade.

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