TBILISI (AFP) — A senior Georgian official called Friday for an urgent UN Security Council meeting amid rocketing tension with Russia over the fate of separatist provinces within Georgian borders.
Russia separately demanded that Georgia pull its troops out of a gorge within one of the provinces, Abkhazia, and that Tbilisi sign an agreement renouncing any use of force in resolving the region's status.
Russia and Georgia each blame the other for fomenting unrest in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and each has recently appealed to the United Nations to help lower the temperature in the region.
"Georgia demands the convocation of a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting" on the conflicts, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told Rustavi 2 television in Tbilisi on Friday.
In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said that a 15-year impasse over the provinces can "only be found through an end to provocations and the immediate signing of documents on renouncing the use of force."
In the case of Abkhazia, the pledge "must be accompanied by the complete withdrawal of Georgian troops from the upper Kodori Gorge," the ministry said.
The Kodori Gorge, located 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the Abkhaz separatist capital of Sukhumi, is the only part of Abkhazia under Georgian control.
The moves Friday by Georgia and Russia came a day after Moscow admitted that it had flown warplanes earlier this week over South Ossetia, an admission followed immediately by Georgia's recall of its ambassador to Moscow.
Russia said it had conducted sorties over South Ossetia after receiving reports that Georgia was preparing a military operation in the province to free four Georgian soldiers who were arrested there earlier in the week.
It said the appearance of the fighter jets headed off imminent "bloodshed" in the province.
Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Techelashvili, fresh from meetings in Tbilisi with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, appeared to reject Russia's explanation.
"Moscow has committed an act of aggression against Georgia," she said Thursday.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia have enjoyed de facto independence from Tbilisi following separate bloody conflicts in the early 1990s, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The two provinces are tacitly supported by Russia, but their independence is not formally recognized by any state. Both regions argue that they are not Georgian and that they have a right to self-determination.
Tensions in Abkhazia soared earlier this month following a trio of bomb attacks that Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, described as "terrorist" acts that he suggested were carried out by Georgia.
Meanwhile in Brussels, the European Union expressed support Friday for the possibility of international mediation to avert armed conflict between Russia and Georgia.
"We see that there is maybe an armed conflict if we don't defuse these tensions there," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told a conference at Brussels think-tank, the European Policy Centre.
The commissioner suggested that something like the "quartet" of international powers for peace in the Middle East was needed to bring together Georgia and Russia along with other parties such as the EU and the OSCE.
She said such an arrangement "could give opportunity to Georgia and Abkhazia to talk to each other directly, because until now they barely have talked to each other."
But in the short term, Russia and Georgia needed to be convinced to "tone down the rhetoric."
The United States revealed Thursday it was pushing for a high-level meeting involving Europe, Russia and Georgia over the next few weeks in a bid to revive direct Georgia-Abkhaz peace talks.
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