Friday, May 8, 2009

Georgia, Russia put off S. Ossetia talks

A second round of security talks between Georgia, Russia and the rebel Georgian region of South Ossetia has been postponed amid rising Moscow-Tbilisi tensions, officials said on Thursday.

The discussions, aimed at reducing the risk of violence in the area around South Ossetia, were due to take place on Thursday in line with an agreement reached in April during a first meeting. "It has been postponed because we could not agree on a suitable location," a spokesman for European Union ceasefire monitors in Georgia, Steve Bird, told AFP. "We tried a number of different locations but they weren't acceptable," he said.

Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili blamed Russia and South Ossetia for the cancellation. He said that after initially agreeing to hold the meeting further inside Georgian-controlled territory, the Russians and South Ossetians said late on Wednesday that was no longer acceptable.

"We regret their refusal to participate," he said. But an official with Russian military forces in South Ossetia blamed Georgia, saying the meeting "has been indefinitely postponed due to the unconstructive position of the Georgian side".

He told the Itar-Tass news agency that Georgia had initially agreed the meeting could be held in the same location as the first round of talks, the border village of Ergneti, but later insisted on other locations. Sporadic violence has continued around South Ossetia since an EU-brokered ceasefire was signed in August, ending a brief conflict over the rebel region. Tensions between Georgia and Russia have remained high since the war. Moscow has been fiercely critical of Nato military exercises that began in Georgia on Wednesday. A new round of talks aimed at preventing another war is to take place in Geneva on May 18-19.

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