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Georgia meets separatists for frontline talks
April 23, 2009 / 5:43 PM / 8 years ago

Georgia meets separatists for frontline talks

* Georgians, South Ossetian separatists meet

* Joined by Russian delegates



By Niko Mchedlishvili

ERGNETI, Georgia, April 23 (Reuters) - Georgia met officials from the breakaway South Ossetia region for the first time in the conflict zone on Thursday at a meeting brokered by European officials in a tent on the frontline between their forces.

They were joined by Russian delegates in the village of Ergneti in a neutral zone between the checkpoints of the two sides, at talks facilitated by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and EU monitors.

"There are no concrete agreements at the moment...We just agreed to hold regular meetings in the future," Shota Utiashvili, the Georgian delegation head, told journalists after the meeting.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last August for control of South Ossetia, which has been under separatist control since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Tbilisi severed diplomatic ties with Moscow following the conflict and rejects South Ossetia’s self-declared independence, which only Moscow recognises.

The meeting aimed to create a security mechanism that would reduce tensions and potential incidents in the conflict zone. The draft of the mechanism was agreed between Georgia and Russia during talks in Geneva in February.

"Despite difficulties, there was a joint spirit that we must go ahead with this mechanism that is in the interest of the civilian population...I remain optimistic despite all difficulties we had on procedural issues," the head of the EU monitoring mission, ambassador Hansjorg Haber, told journalists.

He said the next meeting was scheduled for early May.

The Russian representative at the meeting said the sides agreed to set up a "hot telephone line" in order to inform each other about any incidents.

"The hot line is set up. It’s expected that meetings will be held twice a month," deputy head of Russia’s ground forces, lieutenant-general Sergey Antonov told Interfax.

But Georgian officials were sceptical about any new communication channel working.

"They didn’t even give us any telephone numbers for this hot line," Utiashvili told Reuters.

(Writing by Margarita Antidze; editing by Michael Roddy)



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