* A Black Sea enclave bordering Russia, Abkhazia was once the favourite holiday destination of the Soviet Union's elite. * Abkhazia, like fellow rebel republic South Ossetia, refuses to recognise Georgian central rule and fought a war in the early 1990s to establish de facto independence. The 1992-93 conflict killed 10,000 people and displaced 250,000 civilians before Georgian troops were forced out.
* Its population is estimated to be around 200,000, although the exact figure is not known. It has the trappings of statehood with its own flag, postage stamps and a "foreign ministry", but is not internationally recognised.
* On coming to power in Jan. 2004 after a bloodless revolution, pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili vowed to make reuniting the country his top priority.
* Tbilisi accuses Russia of backing the separatist regime. A vast majority of residents in Abkhazia have been issued with Russian passports and most trade is with Russia. Separatist Abkhaz leaders say they want eventually to join Russia.
* The majority of people in Abkhazia are ethnically distinct from Georgians. They say they were forcibly absorbed into Georgia under Soviet rule and now want to exercise their right to self-determination.
* Abkhazia and South Ossetia believe Kosovo's independence from Serbia in February created a precedent for them to be recognised universally as independent states.
* In March 2008 Russia dropped formal restrictions on trade with Abkhazia, in what some commentators saw as a move linked to Kosovo's declaration of independence. Georgia hit back, accusing Russia of "encouraging separatism".
* On April 16 Putin ordered the government to establish legal links with Abkhazia and Ossetia, a move Tbilisi said was "creeping annexation" of its land by Moscow.
* On April 24 Saakashvili said he would seek Western support to replace Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway province with an international force.
* Russia keeps hundreds of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia. Tbilisi complains the Russian troops are effectively propping up the separatist regimes. Moscow says they are all that is preventing more bloodshed.
* Saakashvili proposes a peace deal under which South Ossetia and Abkhazia would be given "a large degree of autonomy" within a federal state. The separatist leaderships say they want full independence.
(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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