Russia-Abkhazia direct dealing a 'concern'

Strasbourg - Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis expressed great concern on Wednesday at Russia's decision to deal directly with the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia.

"I am very concerned to have been informed that the Russian authorities intend to deal directly with the authorities of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia in order to obtain the transfer of Russian citizens from prisons in Abkhazia," Davis said in a statement.

"To my knowledge, the agreement of the Georgian government has not been sought. In these circumstances, the intention of the Russian government contradicts their previous statements upholding the territorial integrity of Georgia," Davis said.

The comment comes a week after Russia decided to forge legal ties with the separatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a move that was condemned by the United States and European Union (EU).

Russia officially endorses Georgia's territorial integrity, but has warned that the independence of Kosovo from Serbia in February could serve as a precedent for the breakaway provinces. Russia last month lifted trade restrictions on both Georgian regions.

Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in the breakaway regions since 1993. The two regions have long looked to Moscow for support in their appeal for independence and a majority of residents have been issued with Russian passports in recent years.

The Council of Europe is a grouping of 47 European states, including both Russia and Georgia, designed to foster international cooperation and dialogue and protect human rights. - Sapa-dpa

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