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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhazia Warns of Kosovo Scenario in Georgia

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Talks between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia aimed at reducing tension between the two sides began acrimoniously, with the Abkhaz side warning of a return to ethnic conflict.

"In Abkhazia, the Kosovo variant could be repeated," Abkhazia's de facto prime minister, Sergei Bagapsh, said outside an Istanbul conference on Monday.

He had earlier accused Georgia of sponsoring partisan violence in the breakaway province.

The two sides met as part of United Nations efforts to mediate a lasting solution to the conflict, which claimed 10,000 lives in fighting between 1992 and 1993.

Secessionist Abkhazian fighters succeeded then in creating a de facto government in the region but the fighting caused an exodus of 150,000 ethnic Georgians from the Black Sea province.

Another 30,000 fled the region last year when Abkhaz forces entered a border buffer zone and torched Georgian villages. Most of the refugees have not returned.

"The Istanbul meeting will focus primarily on the safe return of refugees," said UN special envoy Liviu Bota.

The three days of talks will be closed to the media.

Abkhazia has so far linked the return of ethnic Georgian refugees to a political settlement on its status, a position condemned by the United Nations. Georgia has offered Abkhazia broad autonomy, but the Abkhaz side insists on full independence or a type of confederation.

Officials said the Istanbul talks would focus on economic and refugee issues.