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EU presses for peace plan over South Ossetia conflict

Latest update : 2008-08-19

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has secured Georgia’s approval of an EU-backed plan for a ceasefire with Russia. Next stop – Moscow, to sell the plan to the Russians.

Watch our Top Story and Face-Off programmes on the escalating conflict between Russia and Georgia.


US warns Russia over South Ossetia


As Russia and Georgia trade accusations about fighting over two breakaway provinces, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner travels to Moscow Monday to seek Russian approval for an EU-backed ceasefire plan.
During a visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Kouchner presented an EU-backed plan calling for an immediate ceasefire, medical access to victims, controlled withdrawals of troops on both sides and eventual political talks. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed the plan Monday.
However, a Kremlin spokesman rejected the ceasefire offer, saying Russia would not even study the document because “Georgia continues to use military force,” Reuters reported.
Kouchner is next due to travel to Moscow where he hopes to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He announced that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also expected to head to Moscow Tuesday to "try to finalise" a possible ceasefire with Georgia. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
The European Commission called on Russia to halt all military activity on Georgian territory immediately, and US President George W. Bush, speaking in Beijing, called Moscow's actions "disproportionate."
A French humanitarian plane leaving Monday for Georgia will be used to evacuate French and European Union nationals stranded in Tbilisi, the French foreign ministry said.
Russians, Georgians trade accusations
Russian forces appeared to have seized control of South Ossetia on Sunday, two days after Georgian forces moved in to try to oust the separatists who have run the province since the early 1990s. However, according to the Russian foreign minister, Georgia still had soldiers and troops in the area.
According to the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in the province, the Georgians are continuing to fire on Russian positions in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali despite claims that they have withdrawn. On Monday an AFP reporter in Tskhinvali confirmed that there had been heavy artillery firing on the city all night coming from the southern city outskirts and described scenes of destruction in what is the separatists’ main city.
Georgia has also accused Russia of persistently carrying out aerial bombardments of several Georgian locations outside South Ossetia, including a special forces base and an air traffic control centre in the suburbs of Tbilisi.
On Monday, Saakashvili said Russia "wants to replace the government in Tbilisi" in order to control strategic energy routes. He said Georgian troops had killed “several hundred” Russian troops and shot down 80-90 Russian planes. Russian defense officials said they had lost 18 soldiers and four planes since the conflict began.
In Gori, a Georgian city south of the rebel province, Russian bombings have brought the city to a standstill, according to FRANCE 24’s Tim Grucza. “For the moment [Gori] is still locked down but the Russian bombardment, which had aimed for military installations, also hit a lot of civilian buildings,” said Grucza. “Today, many residents are returning home to find their apartments destroyed and burned.”
Kouchner and Saakashvili both visited Gori on Monday morning, to tour the damaged buildings.
The deputy head of Russia's armed forces, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, denied on Sunday that its country had attacked any residential areas in Georgia, while President Medvedev called Georgian military operations in South Ossetia "genocide…" as "they were on a mass scale and were directed against individuals."
Conflict spreads to Abkhazia
The conflict has also spread to Abkhazia, another Russian backed province that broke away from Georgia in the 1990s. The Kodori Valley, a Georgian-controlled pocket of the separatist province, came under aerial bombardment on Sunday, according to UN monitors on the ground who also reported the movement of substantial numbers of heavy weapons by the Abkhaz side.
Military operations in Abkhazia have sparked fears that the conflict in South Ossetia will spread across Georgia. In an interview with FRANCE 24, the Georgian ambassador to France, Mamuka Kudava, accused the Russians of opening a “second front.”
According to the defense minister of the separatist Abkhazians on Monday, their forces have "cornered" Georgian troops in the Kodori Valley - a claim denied by Georgian forces.
Russian forces stationed in Abkhazia issued an ultimatum to Georgian troops on Monday demanding they lay down their weapons, their commander said. Meanwhile, Russia is preparing to deploy 9,000 troops to bolster its forces inside the separatist Georgian region, citing a military spokesman in an interview with Interfax, the Russian press agency.

Date created : 2008-08-11