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    Rice warns Russia against helping separatists in Georgia -1

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    The U.S. secretary of state has urged Russia to respect Georgia's territorial integrity and to stop supporting separatist republics within the South Caucasus nation.

    (Adds paragraphs 12-15)

    WASHINGTON, April 11 (RIA Novosti) - The U.S. secretary of state has urged Russia to respect Georgia's territorial integrity and to stop supporting separatist republics within the South Caucasus nation.

    The UN Security Council considered the problem of Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia Tuesday. Representatives of Georgia, Russia and the U.S. attended the session, but the Abkhazian envoy said he had been denied a visa.

    "We expect Russia to have influence with its neighbors -- you always have influence with your neighbors -- but that it ought to take the character of respect for the independence of those states and in the case of Georgia, respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia, which means doing nothing to suggest that the separatist movements in South Ossetia or in Abkhazia have any claim to independence," Condoleezza Rice told reporters.

    Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the 1990s following bloody conflicts. Russia said it helped mediate the conflict and sent peacekeepers to the conflict zone, where they have remained ever since. A UN military and police mission has also monitored the region since 1993, and its latest six-month mandate is set to expire April 13.

    Georgia's Western-leaning authorities have been seeking to reinstate control over the breakaway regions, and have accused Russia of fuelling separatist sentiments in the republics.

    "Georgia is an independent state. It can choose its foreign policy direction," Rice said.

    Russia's relations with the Georgian leadership have been strained ever since the 2003 "rose revolution" brought them to power. Many in Russia then suspected the U.S. of having a hand in the events.

    Russia's envoy to the UN, Vladislav Churkin, has called on the international community to approach the status of Abkhazia from the same angle as Kosovo, but added that Moscow would only back Abkhazia's independence if all sides agreed to it.

    Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said in turn that Abkhazia had no chance of obtaining independence, after Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, who could not attend the UN Security Council meeting despite Russia's efforts, called on the UN to recognize the self-proclaimed republic as a de facto independent democratic state.

    "This appeal has no prospects, and I don't understand at all why it was circulated by the Russian mission," the Georgian premier said. He rejected the possibility of considering Abkhazia's status in light of debates over the Serbian breakaway province of Kosovo, which is also seeking independence.

    Nogaideli said Russia's role in the situation was not constructive, and added that Georgia was discussing the presence of independent UN forces in the conflict zone to replace Russian peacekeepers.

    Abkhazia's Shamba, who holds Russian citizenship, sent an address to the UN Security Council, complaining that the position of the self-proclaimed republic was being ignored.

    "From the very beginning of the peace process [in October 1993], it was decided that Georgia and Abkhazia were the two sides in the conflict," he said.

    Russian officials and Shamba said the Abkhazian foreign minister had been denied a visa to the U.S. Some Western media quoted American diplomats as saying Shamba had not officially applied for a visa. American envoy to the UN Alejandro Wolff said Shamba's presence at the UN meeting would have been a provocation.

    "Unfortunately, the UN Security Council has so far had no opportunity to listen to both sides [in the conflict], which gives reason to suggest that the UN has failed to be an objective judge," Shamba said in his address but added that he continued to believe in the peace process under the UN aegis as "the only way of preserving stability in the region."

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