- Condoleezza Rice - diplomacy - Georgia - Russia - South Ossetia - unrest
Diplomatic efforts to put an end to the week-long crisis in Georgia continued Friday while the situation on the ground remains volatile.
A French-brokered truce, agreed on Tuesday but not finalised, has put an end to major military operations, but there have been reports of looting and sabotage in Russian-controlled areas and confusion among Russian troops.
“Russian troops don’t really know what’s happening themselves,” says France 24’s Robert Parsons reporting from Tbilisi. “They just go where they are told to go.”
A message for the belligerents
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left France early Friday morning for Tbilisi with a message for the belligerents. "It is time for this crisis to be over," Rice said following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in southern France.
The United States, which has ruled out the use of US military forces, hopes to get Georgia to formally sign the truce brokered Tuesday by Sarkozy.
"I'm going now to talk to [Georgian] President [Mikheil] Saakashvili about the clarifications that the French have provided and then we'll try to get this formal ceasefire in place because the goal of this is to get a ceasefire and to get Russian forces to withdraw from the country ASAP," Rice told reporters on the plane.
Saakashvili said he would need to "take a closer look" at the peace proposal before signing it.
But Russia’s refusal to recognize Georgia's territorial integrity is a major hitch. "It's impossible to force South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree that they can be returned into Georgia's fold by force," Russian Defence Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday by way of explanation.
After rejecting Monday the first draft of a UN resolution calling for an immediate truce, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, seemed to regard more favourably a new proposed draft to formalize the French-brokered ceasefire accord between Moscow and Tbilisi.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi, near Georgia's border, on Friday. In a departure from tone adopted by the West, Germany has resisted directly blaming Moscow for the clashes.
Looting and sabotage
Tuesday’s ceasefire includes a commitment not to resort to force, to end hostilities definitively and provide free access for humanitarian aid. But Russian troops still occupy chunks of the Georgian territory.
Russian troops are still stationed around the towns of Gori and Poti, northeast of the capital, Tbilisi, where they allegedly sabotaged some Georgian military infrastructure.
An AFP reporter said Friday that he had seen few Russian soldiers visible in Gori but they remained concentrated in large numbers at a base just outside.
“Staying in Gori gives the Russians the possibility of cutting Georgia in two and establish de facto a partition of Georgia,” says, a France 24 international affairs analyst Gauthier Rybinski.
According to the Georgian President Saakashvili, the Russian army now controls about a third of the country. He said on Monday that Russian forces held the majority of Georgia's territory.
"This army travels around with irregulars, travels around with marauders, travels around with rapists, travels around with arsonists, robbers and with looters," Saakashvili told a briefing for foreign media.
Beyond the claims of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia, which according to research done by Human Rights Watch seem largely exaggerated, it’s the issue of refugees which has concerned the international community.
Latest estimates by the Georgian and Russian governments and compiled by the UNHCR put the number of displaced people at nearly 118,000.
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