Steinmeier heads to Georgia to mediate Abkhazia crisis

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to Georgia and Russia this week in a bid to help end the conflict over the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Steinmeier will travel to Tbilisi Thursday to hold talks with the Georgian government and the political opposition before travelling to Abkhazia, where he will meet local leaders, foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told a regular government news conference.

Steinmeier will then travel to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov before returning to Berlin Saturday. “Germany has long been engaged in trying to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” Peschke said, adding that Steinmeier’s trip was part of international efforts to cool tempers in the region.

“The goal of the trip is to find with all the affected parties ways out the logic of escalation, out of this spiral of constantly escalating incidents. It is about building trust and creating the specific conditions for a solution that will be acceptable for all.”

Germany currently chairs the so-called United Nations Group of Friends of the Secretary General, which also comprises Britain, France, Russia and the United States. The group drew up a plan to settle the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia but the bid was rejected out of hand by Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh Monday, according to Russian media.

Steinmeier met with visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon Tuesday and called Lavrov and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week to discuss Abkhazia. Lavrov told him that Moscow wanted both “sides to accept obligations not to use force,” and for Georgian troops to pull out of the strategic Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Abkhazia has enjoyed de facto independence from Tbilisi since a bloody conflict in the early 1990s, but its self-declared government is not formally recognised by any other state.

Tensions mounted this month with a series of bombings in Abkhazia, the arrest by another separatist republic, South Ossetia, of four Georgian soldiers and flights over South Ossetia by Russia’s air force, which Moscow says are needed to prevent “bloodshed.”

Georgia for its part accuses Russia of tacit support for the rebels and stoking tensions in both regions.