Georgia and Abkhazia hold secret talks in Sweden

Georgia held rare talks with representatives of its rebel Abkhazia region in Sweden last week, a senior Georgian official revealed on Saturday. However, no progress was made in solving the long-running conflict.

Georgian National Security Council Secretary Alexander Lomaia told AFP the talks, kept secret at the time because Abkhazia has not yet agreed to hold formal negotiations, were held on June 15th-17th.

“The central government of Georgia presented the separatist officials with President (Mikheil) Saakashvili’s peace plan and offered a whole range of initiatives on cooperation in the field of the economy, in lifting restrictions on the movement of people and in the humanitarian sphere. All our initiatives were rejected by the separatists,” Lomaia said.

Lomaia said four Georgian officials took part, including himself and State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili, while the Abkhaz side was represented by Abkhazia’s de facto foreign minister, Sergei Shamba and two other officials.

Maxim Gunjia, Abkhazia’s de facto deputy foreign minister, confirmed the talks had taken place, but denied they were official negotiations.

“These were not negotiations but an informal meeting,” he told AFP. “The question of security was raised, notably Georgia’s preparation of an attack.”

He said the talks did little to assuage Abkhazia’s fears that Georgia is preparing to retake the region by force.

“There are two forces in Georgia, those who want peace and those who want war. President Saakashvili is one of the hawks,” he said.

Tensions surrounding Abkhazia have soared since Moscow announced in April that it was establishing formal ties with its separatist government.

Georgia accuses Russia of seeking to annex Abkhazia and another separatist region, South Ossetia, through its support for the regions’ rebel governments.

Moscow on Thursday threatened to use force if its peacekeepers in Abkhazia are again detained by Georgia. Tbilisi detained but later released four Russian peacekeepers on Tuesday for allegedly transporting weapons through Georgia illegally.

Russia has hundreds of peacekeepers deployed in Abkhazia under a ceasefire agreement signed in the early 1990s.

Georgia has put forward a peace plan offering Abkhazia widespread autonomy, security guarantees and senior positions in the Georgian government, including a vice-presidency.

Abkhazia has rejected holding talks with Tbilisi until it agrees to sign a non-aggression pact and withdraws its forces from the Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia under Tbilisi’s control.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke from Georgian control during wars in the early 1990s that left thousands dead and forced tens of thousands from their homes.