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Asia Crisis

Georgia separatists have say on UN mission-Russia

MOSCOW, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Georgia's separatist Abkhazia will have a decisive say on whether United Nations peace monitors will be able to continue working in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

The mandate for the U.N. observer mission expires on Feb. 15 and the separatist administration says it will allow them to operate after that only if their mandate is changed to acknowledge Abkhazia's assertion it is an independent state.

Under U.N. rules, Abkhazia -- which is recognised only by Russia and Nicaragua -- has no formal influence on discussions over the mandate but Russia could use its veto as a permanent member of the Security Council to back the separatists' demands.

"The decisive say will belong to those sides which will host the corresponding international presences on their territory," Lavrov told a news briefing with European Union foreign policy officials in Moscow.

"The final decision will depend correspondingly on the position of Georgia, as far as the international presence on its territory is concerned ... and the position of Abkhazia as far as the presence of the U.N. on Abkhaz territory is concerned."

Georgia has said it will not accept a new mandate which undermines its sovereignty over Moscow-backed Abkhazia, a position likely to be supported by Tbilisi's allies in Europe and the United States.

The U.N. observers patrol a tense area on the edge of Abkhazia where separatist and Georgian forces have been facing off since Abkhaz forces drove Tbilisi's troops out of the region in fighting in the early 1990s.

There has been broad consensus over the need for the mission, but last year's war between Russia and Georgia -- and Moscow's recognition of Abkhazia and the second breakaway region of South Ossetia -- have made its position more precarious. (Reporting by Conor Sweeney, writing by Christian Lowe, editing by Richard Balmforth)

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