Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called on the international community to help bring an end to the conflict over South Ossetia amid signs that Russian troops were moving deeper into Georgian territory.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said he had signed an EU-backed plan to end hostilities between Georgia and Russia over the province of South Ossetia as the focus of an international diplomatic mission turned toward Russia to try to convince Moscow to accept the plan.
Speaking to reporters in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi Monday shortly after meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Saakashvili said he agreed with the plan calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities and posting a mixed peacekeeping force including Russian, Georgian and international troops.
Kouchner is heading an EU delegation visiting the region. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
But even as Georgia signed on to the plan, reports from Moscow indicated an early Russian rejection of the ceasefire proposal.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would never be a "passive observer" in the Caucasus region in a televised statement Monday. But he later suggested sending a mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to South Ossetia.
Kouchner is set to visit Moscow Tuesday, where he will be joined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an attempt to get Moscow on board with the ceasefire plan.
Reporting from Moscow, FRANCE 24’s Romain Goguelin said experts believe that Russia is reinforcing its positions before starting any negotiations. But he added that Moscow, in the long term, was probably looking to establish “the status quo that existed before the start of the conflict with two separatist areas unofficially controlled by Russia.”
Tensions between Russia and Georgia grew out of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 with the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia declaring their intentions to separate from Georgia, claims Tbilisi rejects.
‘Preplanned, cold-blooded, mediated murder’
Despite intense international diplomatic efforts to end the latest conflict in the Caucasian region, the situation on the ground remained tense with both sides trading accusations of new attacks in and around South Ossetia.
Georgia's foreign ministry accused Russia of staging new air attacks in and around Tbilisi on Monday. Meanwhile, Russia insisted that Georgian troops were still fighting in South Ossetia despite Georgia’s declaration Sunday that it had withdrawn from the breakaway province.
On Monday, Saakashvili accused Russia of using the conflict in South Ossetia to occupy Georgian territory in a bid to “replace the government in Tbilisi".
In an impassioned plea for international help, Saakashvili warned that the world was witnessing the “preplanned, cold-blooded, mediated murder of a small country.”
For its part, Russia kept up the war of words. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blasted the West for misconstruing the aggressors as the victims in the latest conflict. The United States came in for a particularly strong attack, with Putin accusing US officials of maintaining a “Cold War mentality” and cynically distorting the facts.
Abkhazia turning into new war theatre
Three days into the fighting, the facts on the ground however have been murky with each side issuing claims and counterclaims of troop and civilian casualties as well as ongoing military operations.
The conflict appeared to be spreading to Abkhazia, another Russian-backed province that broke away from Georgia in the 1990s.
Georgian officials accuse Russia of entering Georgian territory through Abkhazia amid reports that Russia had taken Gori, a city that has turned into a launch pad for Georgian military operations in South Ossetia. The reports, however, were not verified.
Reporting from Gori earlier Monday, FRANCE 24’s Tim Grucza said Russian bombings had brought the city to a standstill. “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.”
Date created : 2008-08-11