Georgia has accused Russia of arming separatists in its breakaway Abkhazia province, and asked the United Nations to take over peacekeeping duties in the region. The charge drew a sharp Russian rebuke.
A top Georgian lawmaker told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Russia is undermining efforts to settle a long-running insurgency in Abkhazia. At a closed-door meeting, Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze asked the Council to replace Russian peacekeepers in the region, saying they had lost the trust of the Abkhazian people.
Afterward, she accused Russia of playing what she called a 'negative role' in Abkhazia.
"Unfortunately, Russian peacekeeping forces they are not neutral, and they [are] officially declaring they are protecting Russian citizens in Abkhazia, so they could not be neutral, as they are protecting their own citizens," said Nino Burjanadze.
Burjanadze said Georgia's parliament would recommend that Russian forces be withdrawn from Abkhazia and replaced with an international police force.
Her comments echoed those of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. He was quoted earlier in the day as charging Russia with trying to annex Georgian territory through its continued deployment of peacekeepers.
Those accusations drew a sharp response from Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin. He said Russia is not a party to the conflict in Abkhazia, and described the Georgian lawmaker's remarks to the Security Council as "a big mistake".
"I'm very disappointed," said Vitaly Churkin. "I think Ms. Burjanadze made big mistake by this kind of a diatribe against Russia. I think it's completely unacceptable first of all and counterproductive in terms of the goals of pursuing the political settlement of all the issues in that conflict."
Churkin effectively rejected the Georgian request for U.N. peacekeepers, saying Abkhazian officials would not accept them. Russia, as a permanent Security Council member, would have a veto over any deployment of peacekeepers.
Abkhazia has effectively been independent of Georgia since a separatist war more than a decade ago. A small U.N. observer mission patrols the frontier between the breakaway province and the rest of the country. A larger Russian force operates in Abhkazia.