GENEVA - Russia and Georgia started talks yesterday to resolve tensions over breakaway regions that led to a war in August, and one senior official predicted negotiations could take years.

"I expect a result in many, many years forward if we start today [Wednesday] constructively," said Maksim Grinjia, deputy foreign minister of the Moscow-backed rebel region of Abkhazia. "It's a long process. We have to start one day," he said.

A first set of talks, brokered by the European Union and other international bodies, failed to get off the ground last month because of disagreements about whether representatives from South Ossetia and Abkhazia should take part, and how.

Since the five-day war ended there have been shootings and explosions along the new de facto border of Georgia and South Ossetia with both blaming each other for stoking conflict.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Tuesday that Georgia was trying to build up its military, which could spark even greater instability in the region than in August.

Diplomatic maneuvers
Much diplomatic sleight-of-hand has been needed to get all the parties to sit around the same table, and most participants declined to comment as they entered United Nations headquarters in Europe for the meeting.

Moscow insists that the governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that it backs are present, while Georgia is wary of anything that would amount to international recognition for the breakaway regions and insists that regional representatives still loyal to Tbilisi also take part in the talks.

Grinjia said the talks would take place in working groups, rather than a formal plenary session, with officials taking part as representatives and not official delegations. The United States, which sees Georgia as an ally in the volatile Caucasus, is also participating.