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Georgia Takes Steps to Improve Lives of Those in Abkhazia, South Ossetia

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili addresses to supporters during a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, Oct. 8, 2016.

Georgia is taking what it calls a “very important initiative” to improve the lives of those in the Russian military occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Officials in Tbilisi call it “A Step Toward a Better Future.”

“It is yet another open statement on our part to reaffirm that the peacemaking political trajectory pursued by our government will surely continue which, despite many challenges, remains our unwavering, consistent, and continuous trajectory,” Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said.

The initiative that the government has sent to parliament is aimed at improving the humanitarian and economic conditions in the two regions.

They include loosening trading rules, waiving visa requirements for travel, and bringing in more of benefits of European integration.

Russian interests in Transistria, Crimea, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia
Russian interests in Transistria, Crimea, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia

Young people will also be given greater educational opportunities.

It remains to be seen how Russia will react to the initiative.

But Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze tells VOA that Russia is "trying to close off all possible opportunities" for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which he says Russia occupied in 2008 after a brief war.

"Those people are isolated by the occupation regime. They are unable to get all the benefits the other parts the Georgian population are getting ... including educational opportunities ... we want to create more bridges."

Pro-Russian South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1992, followed by Abkhazia.

Separatists in both regions battled with Georgian forces. Russian soldiers invaded in 2008 with the Kremlin claiming it needed to protect its interests in Georgia.

Fighting between Russia and Georgia raged for nearly a week before a cease-fire, but Russia has maintained a military presence in both regions.

Georgia regards Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be part of its territory under Russian military occupation and only Russia and a handful of countries recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations.

This story originated in VOA's Georgian Service.