Georgia Asks Belarus Not To Recognize South Ossetia, Abkhazia

TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgia urged fellow former Soviet republic Belarus today not to follow Russia in recognizing the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Belarus dispatched parliamentarians to Georgia and its rebel territories this week to consider the issue, with Minsk torn between loyalty to traditional ally Russia and a bid to improve relations with the European Union, which supports Georgia.

Russia recognized the regions in August 2008 after crushing an assault by U.S.-ally Georgia on South Ossetia in a five-day war. Only Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed suit.

"The objective of the Georgian side is to demonstrate that it's not about choosing between Georgia and Russia, it's about choosing between justice and injustice, between international law and unlawfulness, between peace and violence," Georgian parliament speaker David Bakradze said after meeting members of the delegation visiting Tbilisi.

"I hope that eventually despite all the awkwardness and the delicacy of the political situation in which this country [Belarus] the end of the day their decision will be based first of all on the principles of international law."

Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he will not be strong-armed by Moscow into a decision. Close military and economic ties between the two countries have become strained by moves by Lukashenka to improve relations with the West.

Belarus parliament representative Sergei Maskovich was tight-lipped when pressed by reporters in Tbilisi whether Minsk would recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"We are simply investigating this issue," he said.

Both regions threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Abkhazia's Black Sea capital, Sukhumi, which still bears the scars of the 1992-93 war, Abkhaz parliament speaker Nugzar Ashuba said no one was rushing Belarus.

"We are serious people and understand that this recognition cannot and should not happen overnight," he said at talks with the parliamentarians on the Abkhaz leg of the trip, Russian ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Relations between Russia and Georgia show no sign of improving, and tensions on the ground remain high despite a lull in security incidents in the past few months.

The European Union has some 225 observers monitoring the cease-fire. The mission said today that South Ossetia had pulled out of the latest round of regular security talks with Georgian officials scheduled for November 19, citing "procedural divergences."

South Ossetia and Georgia are involved in a war of words over the detention of four Georgian teenagers in the rebel territory since November 4. South Ossetia says the four were armed.


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