Georgia Talks Downgrades Over Feud

UNITED NATIONS — International talks about the future security and stability of the Caucasus following the South Ossetia war have been downgraded due to a dispute over whether officials from South Ossetia and Abkhazia could participate, diplomats said.

The meeting on Wednesday — under the joint leadership of the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — had been expected to bring ministers or high-ranking officials to Geneva for substantive discussions.

A Russian diplomat said Monday that the main reason for downgrading the talks was the refusal to allow the participation of representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — both breakaway regions of Georgia whose independence was recognized by Russia after the conflict.

Georgia strongly opposes the inclusion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it still considers part of its territory, in any talks.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Geneva on Tuesday, but he is sending his new Georgian envoy, Johan Verbeke, to what UN spokeswoman Michele Montas called "a technical meeting" on Wednesday.

The Russian diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were conducted in private, said that without the participation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow did not see the need for a high-level discussion.

The diplomat said he expected the technical talks to continue, with meetings about every two weeks.

In Brussels, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Tuesday that he hoped an international donors' conference to be hosted by the EU next week would raise upward of 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) for reconstruction.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a joint news conference that he expected the EU to come forward with 500 million euros of funding, and Saakashvili said he was looking for around twice that amount from others.

"We are talking about the possibility of mobilizing twice that sum through individual donors," Saakashvili said.

The donors' conference is due to be held in Brussels starting next Monday.

The United States has already offered at least $1 billion in aid to help Georgia rebuild after its conflict with Russia.

The EU portion would be spread over three years to 2010, a Commission official said.

n The Georgian Foreign Ministry said Russian military planes flew over parts of South Ossetia and western Georgia in two separate incursions of Georgian airspace Monday.

AP, Reuters