Georgia

Georgian, Abkhaz officials sign protocol on exchange of hostages

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Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, accompanied by several senior military and security officials and by UN Special Representative Dieter Boden, traveled to Sukhum on 3 February for talks with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba and Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz side had proposed the talks in the hope of stabilizing the tense situation on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, where rival groups of Georgians and Abkhaz are demanding the release of co-ethnics held by the other side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 February 2000). The two sides finally signed a protocol pledging an exchange within two days of all persons taken hostage in the past two months. They also agreed to withdraw all illegal armed formations from the conflict zone within one month and to draw up, with the help of the UN Observer and CIS peacekeeping forces, a register of the armed forces in the conflict zone. The number of those forces may not be increased. LF

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