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Russia signs French-brokered peace deal

Latest update : 2008-08-17

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a French-brokered deal to end the conflict in Georgia, a day after his Georgian counterpart did. Meanwhile, Russian troops still occupy parts of the country. Watch France 24's exclusive report.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday signed the French-brokered plan to end the fighting in Georgia over the two breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Kremlin announced. However, on the ground, Russian troops still control large chunks of the Georgian territory.

On Thursday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed the accord following lengthy talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the capital Tbilisi.

According to the US- and EU-backed ceasefire agreement, both sides must halt all hostilities and Georgian and Russian troops must withdraw to positions they held before the conflict broke out last week. However, the details of the agreement – which have yet to be published – do not seem to address all the issues of the conflict, according to FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Jean-Bernard Cadier. “It appears that some passages of the agreement are vague enough to allow unending talks,” he says.

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian troops in Georgia have no timetable for withdrawing, as required by the peace accord.

Asked by journalists on Saturday how long a pullout from Georgia would take, Lavrov replied: “As long as needed.” He added it would depend on Russian units being able to implement unspecified “additional security measures”.

The status of the Georgian separatist provinces is also set to be a sticking point for future talks. On Saturday, US President George W. Bush said that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia and that there is ‘“no room for debate on this matter”. Russia maintains it is unlikely Ossetians, Abkhazians and Georgians can live in one state.

Russian troops hold their positions

Although fighting has halted, Russian forces give no indication of pulling out, more than a week after invading neighbouring Georgia in support of separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“Russian tanks continue to drive back and forth, close to Tbilisi; there are also important military manoeuvres in central Georgia,” noted Régis Genté, an RFI correspondent for FRANCE 24. “So far, the peace plan has not been implemented,” he said, speaking shortly after the Kremlin announced Medvedev had signed the ceasefire.

Russian troops, backed by two tanks and four armoured personnel carriers, were seen by an AFP correspondent digging in at Igoeti, on the main road from South Ossetia to Tbilisi, just 30 kilometres from the Georgian capital.

Troops also remained in control of the main checkpoint into Gori, 60 kilometres northwest of Tbilisi. They blocked journalists from entering the town, which is outside of South Ossetia and was formerly a base for Georgian forces.

The French ambassador in Georgia, Eric Fournier, said on Friday that little aid is trickling into the Georgian city of Gori and the humanitarian situation there is “critical”.

Armed gunmen held up UN workers in Gori Thursday and stole their vehicles, and aid agencies have complained of the difficulty of bringing aid to areas where it was needed most.

On Friday, Bush urged Moscow to withdraw its troops and stop “bullying” Georgia.

Western sponsors of a UN Security Council resolution to formalize the ceasefire deal pushed for a vote by week’s end. However the text is being held up by Moscow’s balking at inserting any reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity.

A Western diplomat close to the bargaining involving European, US and Russian diplomats told AFP: “Yes, ideally, we would like a vote [formalizing the ceasefire] this weekend.

“But we’ll take as long as it takes,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We are not going to push for a vote if we know that the Russians will veto the text ― which does not mean we have to give in to all their demands. There has to be hard bargaining.”

Experts from the US Agency for International Development began arriving Friday to assess the needs of the war-torn country, joining a US military assessment team that arrived the day before, officials said.

The latest estimate by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees put the number of displaced people in the conflict region at more than 118,000.

Date created : 2008-08-16