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Georgia, Russia to Re-open Border


Georgia, Russia to Re-open Border

Georgia says it has reached a deal with Russia to re-open a key border crossing. The move is aimed at easing tensions between the two neighbors following a brief war last year.

Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze has told reporters in Tblisi that Georgia and Russia have agreed that the Verkhny Lars transit point, which closed three years ago, will re-open in March next year.

Kalandadze says Wednesday's agreement follows negotiations between the two neighbors with the assistance of Switzerland.

The border mentioned in the agreement is the only highway crossing between Russia and Georgia that does not go through the Moscow backed rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Both regions declared independence following a brief war between Russian and Georgian forces in 2008.

Kalandadze says she hopes the re-opening of the border will make it easier for travel and trade.

She explains that delegations from both countries agreed it is necessary to allow Georgian citizens and cargo to cross the border. Kalandadze says a formal protocol on re-opening the crossing will be finalized within two weeks.

She says international traffic between Russia and Georgia is scheduled to start March 1, 2010.

Analysts say the move marks a significant breakthrough in diplomatic relations, which ended last year following the August war between Russia and Georgia.

Georgia renovated the border crossing this year, with nearly $2.5 million from the United States.

Russia closed the checkpoint in 2006. Georgian officials said that decision was politically motivated. There have been tensions between Moscow over Tbilisi's attempts to build closer ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other Western institutions.