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Georgia joins CIS; Kremlin summit discuss Caucasus conflicts

By GUY CHAZAN

MOSCOW -- Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze emerged from a Kremlin meeting Friday with President Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to announce that Georgia would join the Commonwealth of Independent States.

And all four leaders agreed to take 'urgent measures' to resolve the volatile conflicts in the Caucasus region south of the Russian border.

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Georgia's decision to join the C.I.S. makes it the last of the 12 former republics to return to the fold in the post-Soviet alliance.

'I am sure that would be to Georgia's advantage,' Shevardnadze said in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

The move comes almost two years after the formation of the loose 11- member post-Soviet alliance, which Shevardnadze pledged he would never join. When the 12-republic Soviet Union broke up in December 1991, Georgia alone turned its back on the new Commonwealth of Independent States.

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The four leaders also discussed the armed conflicts that have ravaged the Caucasus region since the republics became independent when the Soviet Union dissolved. The presidents agreed to take unspecified 'urgent measures' to stop the bloodshed.

The meeting brought together Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan and newly elected Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev, who have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to end the bloody five-year war over Nagorno- Karabakh.

Since coming to power last summer, Aliyev has advocated direct peace talks with the leaders of Karabakh, an enclave populated mainly by Armenians seeking to secede from Azerbaijan.

Aliyev's conciliatory approach came after Armenian fighters spilled out of Karabakh and occupied Azerbaijani lands beyond the enclave, taking them to shooting distance of the Iranian border.

Georgia, meanwhile, has just lost a fierce ethnic war against separatists in the Black Sea coastal strip of Abkhazia, and is now fighting supporters of ex-President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the west of the republic.

After the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi fell to separatists last month, Shevardnadze accused Russia of betraying Georgia by aiding the rebels, and said he saw 'no point' in meeting with Yeltsin.

Russia had brokered a peace deal between Abkhazia and Georgia which lasted for seven weeks before rebel forces renewed their bombardment of Sukhumi days after Georgia had withdrawn its weaponry under the terms of the truce.

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Days before Sukhumi fell, Georgian Parliament Chairman Vakhtang Goguadze mooted the idea that the only means for Georgia to avoid economic catastrophe and total military defeat in Abkhazia was to join the C.I.S.

In explaining his surprise decision to meet with Yeltsin despite his earlier pledge not to, Shevardnadze said the same reactionary forces which fought on the rebels' side in Abkhazia had been defeated when Yeltsin crushed the armed uprising in Moscow.

Asked whether he still thought Russia had been responsible for the fall of Sukhumi, he said: 'I meant those forces which have now been removed finally and irrevocably, the forces who defended the White House during the attempted state coup of Oct. 3-4.'

By joining now, Shevardnadze may hope to avail himself of C.I.S. peacekeeping troops to help put down the revolt in western Georgia and safeguard against future outbreaks of ethnic conflict.

'We will seek advice with the C.I.S. heads of state and discuss issues connected with providing collective security,' Shevardnadze told reporters.

Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan said the three leaders had discussed how to stop Georgia's crisis impinging on its two Transcaucasian neighbors, who rely on deliveries of fuel and food out of Georgian Black Sea ports.

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Georgian railway transports to Armenia and Azerbaijan have been subject to raids by bandits and a blockade by Gamsakhurdia supporters who last week occupied the Georgian port of Poti.

'We discussed how we could safeguard the normal functioning of these transport arteries by our collective efforts,' Ter-Petrosyan said, adding that the three states would create joint guards to accompany train freights.

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