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Geneva - Nervous over Russia's recent assertive behaviour in Ukraine, Georgia on Wednesday sought a fresh pledge from Moscow that it would not use force to resolve their simmering territorial conflict.
“Georgia remains committed to its non-use of force pledge unilaterally taken in 2010,” said chief negotiator David Zalkaliani after the latest round of internationally-brokered peace talks in Geneva.
He said a similar vow was needed from Moscow following events in Ukraine, which it said was a sign of the “growing assertiveness of Russia in its efforts to prevent neighbouring countries from realising their free foreign policy choice, through violating their territorial integrity and sovereignty”.
The two days of talks, which concluded on Wednesday, marked the 27th round of Georgia-Russia talks since Moscow defeated its former satellite in a lightning war in August 2008.
Georgia and Russia went to war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where separatists had already split from Georgia after the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.
Russia had deployed troops there in the 1990s, and says the war was a response to a Georgian attack.
Russia recognised the regions' independence after the war. But Georgia and the overwhelming majority of the international community still consider them its territory.
“Georgia fulfils the ceasefire agreement, prohibiting the use of force, in good faith, and it is continuously neglected and violated by the Russian Federation,” said Zalkaliani.
A major flashpoint is the construction by Russian troops and the breakaway regions' security forces of barbed-wire fences and trenches along the ceasefire line, seen by Georgia as an attempt to create a definite border.
Zalkaliani said the process of fence-building was halted in February while Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which lies close to Abkhazia.
“We were assured that these kind of activities would be stopped, but unfortunately, the very next day after the Sochi Olympics, these illegal activities have been reconvened,” he said.
Georgia says civilians along the line suffer violence and kidnappings, that school children are detained regularly by Russian troops, water and gas supplies cut off, and that hundreds of families are unable to reach their farmland or cemeteries where relatives are buried.
Russia's delegation opted not to speak to international reporters.
Despite their bitter differences, Georgia and Russia have continued talking under the auspices of the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The international mediators flagged concerns about the fences and alleged violations of Georgian airspace, but said there was progress on humanitarian issues.
“Although on all the key political issues there are stark disagreements, there is a professional attitude by the participants in these meetings in addressing quite practical and sometimes also sensitive issues,” said OSCE mediator Angelo Gnaedinger.
A new round of talks is due on June 17-18.