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By Stephanie Nebehay
Geneva - International mediators shuttled between Russian and Georgian delegations at talks on two breakaway Georgian regions on Wednesday, but it appeared the two sides did not meet face to face.
Diplomats described the contacts as "proximity talks", with officials from international organisations speaking separately to both sides and hoping to bring them together later.
Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August and remain at odds over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian provinces that Moscow has recognised as independent states under its protection.
Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said the two sides had not been meeting together. "Separately," he told reporters as he left the talks, when asked whether Russia and Georgia had been in the same room.
Russia's head of delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, declined to comment.
It appeared that continuing differences about whether representatives from the rebel regions could take part in the talks were keeping the two sides apart.
Organisers threw a news blackout around the politically charged meeting in Geneva and prevented photographers from taking pictures of the delegations as they entered the United Nations building in the Swiss city.
"The talks are private and fairly complex. It is a decision of all of the parties," a UN spokesperson said.
Officials said the aim is to hold contacts every two weeks to resolve practical issues following the war in August, which ended with a French -brokered ceasefire deal.
"The talks will address compliance with the ceasefire, security issues, the return of internally displaced persons and human rights," the US delegation said in a brief statement.
Three international bodies - the European Union (EU), United Nations and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - are co-chairing the one-day talks.
"We need to try our best efforts among the parties concerned to restore confidence so we can establish a conflict-resolution process," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, chairman of the OSCE, Europe's main democracy watchdog, said: "We knew this is a long process, we are taking it slowly step by step."
Georgia made clear it was seeking "fundamental steps" from Russia and could challenge Moscow's insistence that representatives from South Ossetia and Abkhazia attend.
"We understand representatives of the de facto leaders of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia may be present in Geneva and may take part in informal discussions outside the plenary," the US statement said.
Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake South Ossetia, which threw off its rule in 1991-92. Russia responded with a powerful counter-strike, driving the Georgian army out of South Ossetia.
Moscow's troops then pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks.