SUKHUMI, February 20 (RIA Novosti) - President of the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh believes that Sochi (March 6-7, 2003) Agreements must provide the basis for negotiations with Georgia, he said during a Saturday press conference in the capital of the mutinous province, which broke away from Georgia in the beginning of the 1990s in the wake of a bloody armed conflict.

"We have come up with several initiatives, and I think they will be coordinated with our supporters. It will be great if the Georgian side accepts them. The important thing is we announced our readiness to conduct the talks. We should use the Sochi agreements as a basis for negotiations, including the issue of refugees (the number of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia, according to various accounts, constitutes about 300,000 people, and the so-called Supreme Council (parliament) of the autonomous republic of Abkhazia in exile continues to perform its functions in Tbilisi)," Mr. Bagapsh stated.

He said that the agenda of the renewed negotiation process would focus on economic, energy and railroad transportation issues.

"The railroad transportation is not only a priority for Abkhazia. Aside from economic progress it means contacts and ties between people who are going to work in this sphere. It is beneficial for Georgia, Abkhazia and Armenia both in economic and political terms," Mr. Bagapsh stated (because of the interruption of railroad transportation through Abkhazian territory, the ferry connection between the Russian port Kavkaz (on the coast of the Kerch Strait, the Taman peninsula, the Krasnodar territory) and the Georgian port of Poti gains special importance. Cargo ferried to the port of Poti is later transported by railway to Armenia).

"If we start the negotiation process with political issues, we will never come to the solution of the crisis," the Abkhazian president added (right after the victory at the recent presidential election Mr. Bagapsh stated that Georgia must forget about Abkhazia for the next hundred years).

Earlier on Saturday, Mr. Bagapsh met with Russian first deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin, who expressed hope that the meeting might help to open broad prospects for the continuation of the dialogue and the renewal of the negotiation process.

Moscow considers it vital that the Georgian side carries out the provisions of the agreements reached during the Russian-Georgian summit with the participation of Abkhazia in March 2003 in Sochi. The participants of the summit agreed to work in three directions - the return of Georgian refugees to the Gali district of Abkhazia; the reestablishment of railroad transit through Abkhazia; and the modernization of Inguri hydroelectric power station cascade. The Sochi agreements serve as necessary steps toward the re-establishment of mutual trust between the conflicting sides. They were supported by the members of the group of countries-friends of the UN Secretary General on Georgia, which includes Russia, the US, Germany, France and Great Britain, and by the UN Security Council. As a development of the settlement process started by the Sochi agreements, two meetings of the "Group of friends" were conducted in Geneva under the UN aegis. Special working groups are focusing on the implementation of the Sochi agreements at present, although due to recent changes in the Georgian leadership, the work of the groups was suspended.

During the meeting in Sochi, the sides also agreed to lift the ban on economic and other ties with Abkhazia, introduced by the Council of the heads of CIS states in 1996 because the ban had acquired a counter-productive character. The Russian leadership is encouraged by the statements made recently by Georgian President Saakashvili pointing out at his willingness to take daring steps in terms of meeting the interests of the Abkhazian side and aimed at putting an end to isolation of Abkhazia. The agreement to lift the imposed sanctions would have been extremely important for the creation of a new atmosphere in the Georgian-Abkhazian relations, which would ultimately help solving the Abkhazian problem, Moscow believes.

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