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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Warns Rebels Of Escalated Bloodshed

Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze has blamed Abkhaz rebels for a breakdown in negotiations to resolve the breakaway region's status and warned of an escalation in bloodshed if the dispute is not solved.

Peace talks in Geneva were suspended by the United Nations on Friday after the two sides failed to agree on the status of Abkhazia and the return of 250,000 Georgian refugees who fled fighting in the region last year.

Shevardnadze, in a statement issued late on Saturday, said a "destructive position" on the part of the rebels was to blame for the failure of talks.

"If a way out of the crisis is not found soon, a spontaneous explosion and the renewal of military activities is inevitable. There will be bloodshed."

Shevardnadze's harsh language marked a departure from his recent stance during which he had insisted on a political solution to end the 18-month-old separatist campaign.

U.N. officials scheduled the next round of talks for March 7 in New York. Shevardnadze is scheduled to visit the United States from March 6-8 and meet President Bill Clinton.

Both sides have asked for a U.N. force to protect refugees -- who they agreed in January should begin crossing back by mid-March -- in addition to the small U.N. observer force now there.

But the Security Council has warned that it could pull out the observer force unless there is progress towards an agreement. The Georgian government wants Abkhazia, an autonomous republic in Georgia, to accept that its territory lies inside the independent Georgian state before more detailed questions on its status can be discussed.

Abkhazia has demanded that Georgia recognize its independence.

The Abkhazians, who won control of the region with the help of forces from other areas of the Caucasus that form part of Russia, also argue that there cannot be more than 100,000 refugees.