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By Shakeh Avoyan

The speaker of Georgia’s parliament, Nino Burjanadze, wrapped up on Wednesday a two-day official visit to Armenia, calling for closer ties between the two neighboring states.

Burjanadze said after talks with President Robert Kocharian and her Armenian counterpart, Armen Khachatrian, that Armenia and Georgia should step up cooperation in pursuing their “common interest” of seeing peace and stability in the South Caucasus.

“Unfriendly forces that do not want peace in the Caucasus would thus have fewer possibilities of influencing policies pursued by Armenia and Georgia,” she said at a joint news conference with Khachatrian.

Although Burjanadze did not specify what those forces are, the remark was seen as a veiled reference to Russia with which Georgia has had a tense relationship since independence. The Georgian speaker chided Moscow for being “jealous” of Tbilisi’s drive to forge close ties with NATO and reaffirmed Tbilisi’s insistence on a speedy pullout of Russian troops from its territory.

One of the two remaining Russian military bases is located in the Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki district of Georgia. The local Armenians, who have had uneasy relations with the central government in Tbilisi, are strongly opposed to the closure of the base, the single largest employer in the economically depressed region of Javakhetia.

Burjanadze said the Georgian authorities understand the socioeconomic concerns of the local population but dismissed Russian warnings that the troop withdrawal could ignite a new ethnic dispute in Georgia.

Burjanadze praised the Armenian leadership for its stance on Javakhetia and other “issues related to Georgia” at a meeting with Kocharian earlier in the day, the presidential press office reported. She was also quoted as saying that Georgia “would never take a single step that would damage Armenia’s interests.”

The resumption of rail communication between Armenia and Russia via Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia featured large during Burjanadze’s talks with senior Armenian parliamentarians. They pushed for the quick reopening of the Abkhaz section of the strategic railway.

Burjanadze told reporters that Tbilisi backs the idea but urged Yerevan to get Russia to “actively contribute” to the resolution of the Abkhaz conflict.
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