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    Russia insists on Georgian troop pullout to end Abkhazia conflict

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    Russia's president told Germany's foreign minister at talks on the conflict between Georgia and its rebel region Abkhazia that Tbilisi must pull its troops out of the province before a peace deal can be reached.

    MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president told Germany's foreign minister at talks on the conflict between Georgia and its rebel region Abkhazia that Tbilisi must pull its troops out of the province before a peace deal can be reached.

    Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country is chairing a UN group seeking to ease tensions between Georgia and Abkhazia, met with Dmitry Medvedev on Friday evening.

    The Kremlin said the Russian leader "stressed that the only way out of the current situation is to adopt joint documents obliging the sides to refrain from violence and guaranteeing security, and for Georgia to withdraw its troops from the upper part of the Kodori Gorge."

    "The quicker this is done, the more chance there is of solving more complex and sensitive aspects of Georgian-Abkhaz conflict regulation," the statement said.

    Germany's plan for resolving the conflict, which has received the backing of the European Union, stipulates a non-violence agreement, confidence-building measures over the next year to lead to a determination of Abkhazia's status, and the return of around 250,000 Georgian refugees to Abkhazia.

    Germany's top diplomat had arrived in Russia after visits to Georgia and Abkhazia. The Kremlin said he gave a detailed account of his meetings with leaders in Tbilisi and the breakaway province, and on Germany's work as chair of the UN Group of Friends of the Secretary General, set up to prevent an escalation of Georgian-Abkhaz violence.

    Steinmeier had earlier met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

    He admitted to the Russian diplomat that the Georgian and Abkhaz positions remain far apart, and that the current negotiations will require several weeks.

    "I am glad we have seen the willingness of our partners to enter into talks that could resolve a range of issues," he said.

    Before the meeting, Lavrov had said the German plan for the resolution of the conflict was a step in the right direction, but dismissed a proposed agreement on the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia as unrealistic.

    Georgia has accused Russia of fueling tensions in the region with the aim of annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway province. Tbilisi wants to replace Russia-led peacekeepers in the conflict zones with international contingents.

    Some 300,000 Georgians fled Abkhazia in 1991-93 amid accusations of ethnic cleansing. In mid-May, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution acknowledging ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia and called for the return of Georgian refugees.

    Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed in the subsequent hostilities. The two sides signed a ceasefire in 1994 in Moscow.

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