EU Urges Abkhazia to Renew Talks

ReutersRussian peacekeepers taking pictures at the Georgian-Abkhaz border Friday.
SUKHUMI, Georgia -- European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged separatists in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region to re-open peace talks with Tbilisi and said Brussels wanted to play a role in resolving the conflict.

"I think that this conflict should be resolved fundamentally by the two sides, therefore contact between the two sides would be welcome," Solana told reporters after talks with separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh.

Bagapsh said he was prepared to re-open talks but only if Tbilisi gave the separatists security guarantees.

"We understand the willingness of the European Union to take part in the negotiation process, but there are conditions which we won't drop," he said.

Solana is in Georgia to try to help defuse tensions over Abkhazia, still volatile after a separatist war in the 1990s, and to demonstrate to Russia that the EU is a player in the region.

Formal peace talks have been largely suspended for two years. Western states, concerned that the row over Abkhazia could spiral into a new war in a vital energy transit region, are pressing for a resumption of negotiations.

Solana is the highest-level EU official to visit Abkhazia. The EU was not a party to a 1994 cease-fire agreement that set out the format for talks, and Russia has resisted giving the West a greater role.

But Brussels says it wants to get involved because, since the EU expanded to include the Black Sea states of Romania and Bulgaria, the conflict is now on its doorstep.

Solana said he told Bagapsh that the EU cares about the situation in the region, wants to help and "be more deeply engaged."

He later met Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze at the port town of Batumi, controlled by Tbilisi but near Abkhazia.

"I don't want to draw any false expectations, but I think that it's fair to say it was a very, very constructive visit," he told reporters.