Georgia Russia Make Progress in Army Base Talks

TBILISI (Reuters) – Russia and Georgia have moved closer to resolving a dispute over a military base in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region–Georgian Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili said on Wednesday.

Menagarishvili said Moscow had agreed to withdraw its men and equipment–but would send a contingent of its peacekeepers deployed elsewhere in the region to guard the vacated base.

He said precise conditions of the withdrawal–including Georgian requests that it be internationally monitored–remained to be worked out at talks resuming next week in Moscow.

"All weapons and military equipment will be withdrawn from this base," he said. "We are not going to compromise on any issues at the forthcoming negotiations."

Russia agreed to close the Gudauta base in Abkhazia along with another base near Georgia’s capital Tbilisi under a deal reached at the 1999 Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

But Russian troops missed a July 1 deadline to leave the base in Abkhazia. The region has been outside Tbilisi’s control since separatists expelled government troops in a 1992-93 war.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said last week that separatist protests were preventing Russian troops from leaving the Gudauta base. He blamed the delay on Georgia’s failure to ensure the withdrawal could be conducted safely.

Georgia has accused Russia of assisting the Abkhazian separatists–who took up arms against Tbilisi shortly after the former Soviet republic gained its independence.

Russia’says it needs a further 14 years to close two other bases in the south Caucasus nation which shares a border with Chechnya. It also maintains 1,500 peacekeepers in Abkhazia.

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