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Russia, Georgia peace talks constructive: mediators

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia and Georgia have edged closer to a joint declaration on renouncing the use of force, mediators said Wednesday, almost five years after Moscow defeated its former satellite in a lightning war.

After two days of talks in Geneva, European Union mediator Philippe Lefort told reporters the two sides had "constructively discussed" a draft statement.

"They exchanged views and opinions and agreed to continue the drafting at the next round," Lefort said, adding that they delegations were to meet again on June 25 and 26.

Under the auspices of the EU, the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia and Georgia have held a total of 23 rounds of their so-called Geneva International Discussions.

The last was in October 2012.

Besides the issue of renouncing force, the talks focus on areas such as the return of refugees and access for residents and aid across the ceasefire line.

"They've had a difficult discussion. But overall, the atmosphere was constructive," said UN mediator Antti Turunen.

"This provides a good example of the commitment of the participants to continue the discussions, despite the fact that we have great political difficulties which we have to tackle," he added.

OSCE mediator Andrii Deshchytsia echoed that, saying: "Thanks to the positive approach of the participants, the security situation on the ground has improved."

Russia and Georgia went to war in August 2008 over breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two pro-Moscow regions of Soviet-era Georgia which split with Tbilisi after the USSR crumbled in 1991.

Russia, which had deployed troops there since the 1990s, recognised them as independent states after the war, while Georgia still considers them part of its territory.

Davit Zalkaliani, Georgia's negotiator and deputy foreign minister, said the latest Geneva talks had seen an "ordinary, businesslike environment."

In 2010, Georgia unilaterally renounced force in the region.

That stance was reaffirmed after last October's parliamentary election victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili -- a tycoon who got rich in Russia and bitterly opposes the anti-Moscow rhetoric of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.

But despite progress in Geneva, Zalkaliani said a joint declaration should "not be considered as a substitute" for a unilateral Russian announcement.

"Russia's reciprocal non-use of force pledge will give a decisive impetus to our endeavours," he said. "So the statement can only be issued after the Russian side makes a unilateral, legally-binding declaration on non-use of force."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130327/russia-georgia-peace-talks-constructive-mediators