Georgia's rebel Abkhazia calls for independence recognition

SUKHUMI, Georgia (AFP) — Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia appealed to the international community Friday to recognize its self-declared independence, citing Kosovo as a precedent.

"After the recognition of the independence of Kosovo by a large number of Western states... conditions favourable to the recognition of Abkhazia's independence have appeared," the Abkhaz parliament said in a statement.

The statement called on the United Nations and individual countries to "consider the recognition of the republic of Abkhazia as an independent, sovereign state."

A separate statement called on Russia's lower and upper houses, the State Duma and Federation Council, to do the same.

The Duma will consider the issue at a hearing on March 13, the deputy chairman of its international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, told Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency.

The declaration followed a similar vote on Wednesday by Georgia's other separatist region, South Ossetia, which also cited Kosovo in a call for the international community to recognize its self-declared independence.

The two regions' rebel leaders, Sergei Bagapsh of Abkhazia and Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia, told Interfax that their provinces had as much right to independence as Kosovo.

"We call on the international community to refuse double standards and recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Bagapsh said.

"For us the situation with the recognition of Kosovo is a precedent and all talk of the uniqueness of that case is not credible."

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in conflicts in the early 1990s in which thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Georgians were forced to leave their homes.

With economic and diplomatic support from Russia, the two Caucasus mountain provinces have existed as de facto independent states since then.

However, no country, including Russia, recognises their independence and Georgia says it intends to restore control.

Moscow fought unsuccessfully to prevent Western recognition of Kosovo's independence from Russian ally Serbia, warning Kosovo could serve as a precedent for other separatist struggles.

Friday's vote came as Georgia summoned Russia's ambassador and handed him a note to protest a decision by Moscow on Thursday to lift trade restrictions imposed on Abkhazia in 1996.

The Georgian foreign ministry said in a statement that Russia's move was "an extremely dangerous provocation that encourages separatism and aims to deepen tensions in the conflict zone."

The statement accused Moscow of "trying to violate Georgia's sovereignty."

Georgia said the sanctions had prevented Russia from supplying arms to Abkhazia and accused Moscow of preparing "the basis for providing the separatist government with military assistance."