Saakashvili signs Georgia-Russia ceasefire plan

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced in a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he signed the peace treaty today that would end the conflict with Russia.



Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has signed the EU and US-backed ceasefire agreement during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Georgian capital Tbilisi.


"Today, I signed the ceasefire agreement," Saakashvili said during a joint press conference with Rice in front of the presidential palace in Tbilisi.


Rice demanded that the Russian troops withdraw immediately to positions before the start of the conflict last Friday.


Western leaders hardened their tone towards Russia as the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev maintained he would be ready to repeat his military intervention in the two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia if need be.


At a meeting with Medvedev in Sochi, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel departed from a more prudent stance towards Russia and demanded Russia withdrew from Georgia, saying the latter could join NATO.


In Washington, US President George W. Bush sternly warned Russia against "bullying and intimidation" of its neighbours and vowed Washington would not back down in its support for embattled ally Georgia.



Ceasefire agreement engages the future


Following lengthy talks with Saakashvili, Rice announced that a ceasefire agreement had been reached, while conceding that the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remained open.


"Our most urgent task today is the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia," Rice told reporters. "Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once," she said. "This is no longer 1968."


“There’s been some hard talking going on,” says Parsons as talks between Rice and the Georgian President Saakashvili trailed on. “The difficulty is to persuade Saakashvili to sign a document he may be reluctant to.”


Russia’s refusal to recognise Georgia's territorial integrity was a major hitch. "Russia, as guarantor of security in the Caucasus and the region, will make a decision that unambiguously supports the will of these two Caucasus peoples," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, referring to South Ossetia and Abkhazia at a tense press conference with Merkel in Sochi.


Merkel and insisted that the integrity of Georgian territory was “a starting point” and "We very much want the six-point plan to be implemented very promptly so that Russian troops are no longer in Georgia, outside Abkahzia and South Ossetia," she told a news conference.


According to FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor, Jean-Bernard Cadier, “Medvedev’s reaction was so firm (…) that Merkel was forced to align herself clearly with the West and say that Georgia would be allowed to join NATO.”


Merkel also said Georgia's ambitions to join NATO remained "valid," referring to a NATO summit in Bucharest in April at which Georgia and Ukraine were told they would be allowed to join the alliance, though at an unspecified date.




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 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 FRANCE 24’s international affairs analyst Gauthier Rybinski.


Latest estimates by the Georgian and Russian governments and compiled by the UNHCR put the number of displaced people at nearly 118,000.



More on the Russia-Georgia conflict:

August 15:
Residents flee Gori as Russian-backed militia take charge

Analysis: Are we all Georgians?

August 14
Gori at the heart of tensions between Georgia and Russia
Report: Concerns over human impact in Georgia

August 13
Face to face with the Russian Army , Wednesday  FRANCE 24's special correspondents Nicolas Ransom and Tim Grucza report from Gori, a Georgian town near the border of South Ossetia.

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