Abkhazia calls for independence

March 7, 2008 10:46:23 AM PST
The Russian-backed region of Abkhazia appealed to the world community Friday to recognize it as independent from Georgia, citing Kosovo as a precedent. In a unanimous resolution, Abkhazia's legislature called on the world community and the Russian Parliament to recognize it as an independent nation.

"The republic of Abkhazia has for 15 years successfully existed as an independent nation," the resolution said, citing Kosovo's independence as justification for the timing.

The appeal follows a nearly identical resolution earlier this week by another breakaway Georgian region, South Ossetia.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have had de-facto independence since wars with Georgian forces in the 1990s. No country recognizes their governments, though Russia has tacitly supported their autonomy from Georgia, which has infuriated Moscow by increasingly aligned itself with the West.

Temur Yakobashvili, Georgia's state minister for reintegration matters, said the Abkhazia resolution should not be taken seriously because many ethnic Georgians fled Abkhazia during the fighting and have long sought to return.

"This parliament is not legitimate; it was not elected by the population of Abkhazia," he said. "It cannot reflect the will of the entire population."

Russia further raised tensions with Georgia on Thursday by fully restoring economic ties with Abkhazia. Russian officials said the decision had nothing to do with Kosovo, although Moscow was infuriated by Western recognition of Kosovo's independence and warned that it could fuel other separatist movements, particularly in the former Soviet Union.

Nations that recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia say that situation was unique.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili condemned Moscow's full restoration of trade with Abkhazia as a "grave provocation."

"Russia and its government will bear full responsibility for militarization of Abkhazia," Saakashvili said in a televised statement Friday.

Georgia also summoned Russia's ambassador in protest. In comments likely to further exacerbate the tensions between Russia and Georgia, Russia's regional development minister, Dmitry Kozak, said Russian businesses and investors building for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi can look to Abkhazia for workers and materials.

Abkhazia sits just a few miles from Sochi.

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Associated Press writers Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.

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