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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Meets Shevardnadze for Abkhazia Talks

President Boris Yeltsin interrupted his vacation at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday to meet with the leaders of Georgia and its breakaway province of Abkhazia in a bid to dispel a renewed flare-up of tension in the region.


Yeltsin held separate, closed-door talks with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba on the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, Itar-Tass and Interfax said. But an expected three-way parley did not take place.


Both meetings were attended by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who had held talks with the Georgian and Abkhaz leaders during the weekend.


According to Itar-Tass, Yeltsin expressed Russia's "extreme interest" in the speedy resolution of the conflict, during his talks with Ardzinba, and noted "with satisfaction" Ardzinba's assurance that Abkhazia would begin accepting returning Georgian refugees from Oct.1.


Abkhazia broke from Georgia, a former Soviet republic, in a bitter civil war that ended last fall after the loss of thousands of lives and countless atrocities committed by both sides. Ethnic Georgians had been the majority in the Black Sea province before the war, but as many as 280,000 fled their homes.


Russia has sent troops to Abkhazia to oversee the return of refugees.


When Russia said last week that refugees would begin returning, Abkhazians balked, fearing that the influx would lead to a loss of their independence, so far unrecognized internationally. The Abkhaz army went on combat alert and thousands of troops streamed toward the border.


In an effort to dispel the tension, Grachev flew Friday to Abkhazia, where he talked to both Shevardnadze and Ardzinba in the coastal resort of Novy Afon.


No agreements resulted from the meeting, but Grachev later described the talks as constructive. "It was one more sure step to a peaceful solution of the existing problem," Interfax quoted him as saying.


According to the terms of a United Nations-sponsored cease-fire, the Georgian refugees should first be allowed back into the Gali region, which two years ago had a 56 percent ethnic Georgian population. The latest flare-up was apparently caused by Russian attempts to implement this stage of the agreement.


Some 3,000 Russian troops have been in Abkhazia since June on a peacekeeping mission approved by the UN. The Russians are deployed along a 22-kilometer wide strip of territory either side of the Ingur river.


The Russian peacekeeping role was welcomed by Shevardnadze, but many Georgian refugees have complained that the Russians are far from neutral and are preventing them from returning home.


Two Russian soldiers were killed and a third wounded last week when their car came under fire near the border with Georgia. Abkhazian diplomats blamed the attack on Georgians seeking to undermine the peace negotiations.