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    Russia says Abkhazia, S.Ossetia must join talks on their status

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    Russia insists that Abkhazia and South Ossetia be invited to take part in international talks in Geneva on their status, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, September 9 (RIA Novosti) - Russia insists that Abkhazia and South Ossetia be invited to take part in international talks in Geneva on their status, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced after talks with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy and EU officials near Moscow on Monday that international discussions on the future status of the two republics, which Russia has recognized as independent states, would begin on October 15, 2008, in Geneva.

    "Participants in the talks are not listed in the documents, but we have made it clear that South Ossetia and Abkhazia must have an equal role in the discussions," Lavrov said.

    Russia's top diplomat also said the meeting would focus on ways to ensure security and stability in the region.

    Point six of the Medvedev-Sarkozy peace plan, hammered out in Moscow on August 12, envisages the start of international discussions on the future status for South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

    Lavrov is expected to hold talks with his counterparts from the two republics later on Tuesday on establishing diplomatic relations. They will also discuss a series of draft bilateral agreements between Russia and South Ossetia and Russia and Abkhazia on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance.

    During his visit on Monday to the Russian capital, Sarkozy was accompanied by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The officials said the EU would act as a guarantor of peace in Georgia.

    "We will continue honoring what we signed," Lavrov told reporters. "We expect that now that the European Union has agreed to act as a guarantor for Georgia, Tbilisi will also honor its commitments," Lavrov told reporters.

    Lavrov also said that OSCE and UN observers would remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and that another 100 OSCE observers would soon be deployed to the buffer zone around South Ossetia.

    He added that by assuming legal guarantees and sending observers to the region, the European Union was sending a clear signal to the Georgian authorities that responsibility for the republics "lies with the EU, as well as the OSCE and the UN."

    "Any provocations from now on will be provocations against the European Union," he said.

    After talks in Moscow, Sarkozy, Barroso, and Solana headed to Tbilisi, where Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gave a cautious welcome early on Tuesday to the new deal they brought with them on the withdrawal of Russian forces from the South Caucasus state.

    Under the agreement, Russia has pledged to pull all troops out of the undisputed parts of Georgia within one month, leaving peacekeepers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

    The current crisis began when Georgian forces launched a ground and air attack on the town of Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway South Ossetia, on August 8. Most of the residents of the republic hold Russian citizenship, and Russia subsequently launched an operation to "force Georgia to accept peace."

    Two weeks after the conclusion of the operation, Russian recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, despite warnings by Western leaders not to do so. So far, only Nicaragua has followed suit, although Belarus seems likely to do so later this month.

    Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia split away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Thousands were killed in the ensuing conflicts.

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