Georgia mediation intensifies

August 12, 2008 12:00 am

, TBILISI, August 12 – International efforts to mediate an end to the conflict between Georgia and Russia were set to intensify Tuesday, but Moscow signalled it opposes a peace plan calling for an immediate truce.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was due in Moscow to hold talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on a plan to end the conflict.

But Russia’s ambassador to the UN on Monday rejected the proposed Western draft resolution in the Security Council based on a three-point French peace plan.

"I cannot see us accepting this French draft," Vitaly Churkin told reporters, referring to a French-drafted text agreed by Western ambassadors.

The plan, which Tbilisi has accepted, calls for an immediate truce, respect for Georgia’s territorial integrity and a return to the status quo that prevailed before Georgian troops punched into South Ossetia last week to wrest control from Moscow-backed separatists.

Churkin objected to the fact that the draft resolution did not refer to "Georgian aggression and to the atrocities we have seen."

Moscow has accused Georgian forces of killing 2,000 civilians as well as Russian peacekeepers in what it described as war crimes.

Churkin however expressed hope that an acceptable draft would eventually be worked out and listed two Russian conditions: Georgian forces must pull out of South Ossetia and "the Georgians (must) agree to sign agreements on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and with the Abkhazians."

Earlier on Monday Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov dismissed the EU efforts.

A "ceasefire agreement is signed by two sides when they meet," he told CNN television, adding that Georgia must reach accords first with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region, which has rejected talks with Georgia’s current leaders.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who currently heads up the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, were also to push the peace plan in Moscow on Tuesday.

Sarkozy was also expected to travel to Tbilisi later Tuesday to meet with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Russia’s Vesti-24 television channel reported intense gunfire in the heights of the Kodori Gorge and bombardment of the area by Abkhaz warplanes.

Russian forces pushed further into Georgia on Monday, moving briefly into the western city of Senaki, destroying a military base, Russian and Georgian officials said.

Georgia initially claimed Russian soldiers had occupied Gori, a key city linking the western and eastern parts of the country, but officials later said Russian troops were stationed nearby.

The UN refugee agency said that 80 percent of the 50,000 population of Gori had fled because of Russian attacks.

Russian forces also entered Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti on Monday, Georgian and Russian officials said, but Moscow described it as a reconnaissance mission.

Saakashvili said in an address to the nation that "the majority of Georgia’s territory is occupied."

Georgian armed forces were moved back to Mtskheta, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Tbilisi to defend the capital.

In a phone interview with CNN later Saakashvili said Russia was menacing the capital Tbilisi but vowed: "Georgia will never surrender."

The "Georgian people will never surrender freedom and democracy, because democracy is stronger than any of their tanks, any of their bombings, any of their brutal equipment."

Meanwhile, the South Ossetian separatist government said Georgia had resumed an artillery bombardment of its capital, Tskhinvali, where residents reported many deaths.

A Russian military spokesman said 9,000 troops and more than 350 armoured vehicles would be deployed inside of Abhkazia.

Russia’s military acknowledged it had lost 18 soldiers and four planes in the conflict but gave no details of its latest operations. It has said 2,000 people have been killed in South Ossetia, a figure Georgia disputes.

There were growing international calls for a halt to the fighting which has left hundreds reported dead and driven tens of thousands out of their homes.

US President Bush, Georgia’s staunchest ally, on Monday urged Russia to accept the French-EU peace plan.

"Russia’s government must respect Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward resolving this conflict," he said following a crisis meeting with his national security team.

In his sharpest-yet condemnation of the violence, Bush called Russia’s actions "unacceptable".

"Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century," said Bush.

An extraordinary Russia-NATO council meeting was set to be held in Brussels on Tuesday at Moscow’s request to discuss the conflict, according to an Alliance spokeswoman.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO insisted on the meeting after Georgia announced that its Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili was scheduled to attend a meeting of NATO’s North Atlantic Council in Brussels on Tuesday.

"A war is underway and our colleagues need to listen before consulting with their capitals and making decisions. They need to listen to each party," Rogozin said.


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