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UN peacekeepers stay in Georgia as Moscow relents

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 (Reuters) The U N Security Council today authorized peacekeepers to stay in Georgia for six more months to prevent fighting between the government and a breakaway region after Russia dropped its objection.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council ''reaffirms the commitment of all member-states to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.'' The measure also expresses the council's support for all efforts by the United Nations and interested governments to settle a long-simmering dispute between Georgia and its breakaway Abkhazia province ''only by peaceful means.'' Abkhazia won effective independence from Georgia in a 1992-93 war, and Moscow props up the province by paying pensions, issuing Russian passports and allowing cross-border traffic while acting as the lead ''facilitator'' in the peace process.

Georgia, home to 200,000 ethnic Georgian refugees who fled the war, has vowed to regain control over Abkhazia, as well as over another rebel region, South Ossetia.

The U N mission of 122 military observers and 12 international police officers, first deployed in 1993, patrols the separation line between Abkhazia and the rest of the country, alongside a separate Russian peacekeeping mission.

The resolution approved by the council on Friday extended the U N mission mandate until Oct. 15. Without the renewal, the mandate would have expired at midnight.

The council in January adopted a stripped-down resolution extending the mission's mandate for just two months after Russia objected to planned references to Georgia's territorial integrity and to a 2002 paper relied on by international mediators to guide negotiations on Abkhazia's future.

Russia dropped its objections after intense negotiations in Geneva and Berlin in February.

Russia's concerns appeared to stem from an October 2005 decision by the Georgian parliament to review Georgia's consent to allowing Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The parliament later recommended the internationalization of peacekeeping in South Ossetia, but Russia appeared to cool off after Georgia made no move to ask its troops to leave.

Georgian U N Ambassador Revaz Adamia, however, wrote the Security Council this week to accuse the Russian peacekeepers of trying to ''artificially alienate the sides from one another'' and to accuse Moscow of seeking to militarize Abkhazia and indirectly annex the province through the steady illegal seizure of Abkhaz property.

REUTERS SK RN0323

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