Important qualitative leap' made in Georgia talks, UN reports

International talks on the Russian-Georgian conflict in South Ossetia made an "important qualitative leap" today, moving from a sterile procedural debate to a substantive one, a senior United Nations envoy said.

All delegations engaged in dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect, Johan Verbeke, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative and Head of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, told journalists at the end of the session in Geneva.

The meeting, which brought together representatives of the UN, Georgia, Russia, the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), followed talks last month when procedural difficulties forced officials to suspend the afternoon sessions and continue with consultations.

Today, Mr. Verbeke said stakeholders should try to ensure that the few crossing points in existence should remain open and be managed internationally if possible. That was very important for the people living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in northwest Georgia, so that they could continue to commute and communicate with family members.

The conflict erupted in August with Georgian troops fighting Russian and separatist South Ossetian forces. Russia later announced that it had recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region in Georgia.