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Monday, November 17, 1997 Published at 10:03 GMT

Despatches: Europe
Owen Bennett-Jones
From Geneva

UN-sponsored talks between the Abkhaz leader, Vladislav Ardzinba, and the Georgian Foreign Minister, Irakli Menagarashvili, are taking place in Geneva. The talks are intended to focus on finding agreement on Abkhazia's future political status, as well as on the permanent return of people who fled from Abkhazia during the conflict there. From Geneva, Owen Bennett-Jones reports:

"The last time the Georgians and Abkhazians met in Geneva, back in July, the two sides spent a fruitless week haggling over procedure. This time round the Abkhaz leader, Vladislav Ardzinba, will be meeting with the Georgian Foreign Minister and officials from Russia, France, Germany, the UK and the US. The conflict in Abkhazia began five years ago when the Abkhaz pushed for independence. Russian peacekeeping forces now patrol the border between the two sides and the Abkhaz side runs itself as a de facto state. The UN Security Council, however, is committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia and the chairman, Liviu Bota, concedes that there's still no sign of a resolution of the central issue - Abkhazia's future status. There's also the question of the Georgian refugees who left Abkhazia during the fighting. Tens of thousands of Georgians are currently unable to return to their homes in Abkhazia and UN officials say the security of those who have gone back is fragile. Mr Bota said that finding a solution to the conflict is complicated because so many regional interests are involved. In particular he highlighted the role of Russia, which he said has taken a number of encouraging steps in facilitating a settlement. But he added that while Russia cannot solve the conflict, it does have the means to block a settlement if it chooses to do so."

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