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UN deadlocks on S Ossetia truce call

UNITED NATIONS, August 10 – UN Security Council efforts to end fighting in the breakaway Georgian enclave of South Ossetia were deadlocked Sunday after envoys failed to agree on a call for a truce between Russia and Georgia.

"We have come to the conclusion that it will be very difficult if not impossible to find common ground on a statement," Belgian ambassador Jan Grauls, the council chair this month, told reporters after informal closed-door consultations Saturday.

The collapse marked the third time the Security Council has failed to agree on the Belgian-drafted statement that would urge the warring sides to "show restraint and to refrain from any further acts of violence or force."

Late Saturday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a negotiated resolution of the conflict.

"The secretary-general urges all parties to immediately end hostilities and to engage, without delay, in negotiations to achieve a peaceful settlement," said a statement issued by Ban’s office.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin reiterated Moscow’s demand that Tbilisi commit itself to renouncing the use of force and withdraw its forces from South Ossetia, calling the events "genocide."

"The Georgians must pull out of South Ossetia and must agree to sign a document of non-use of force in South Ossetia," he said.

Pointing to the enclave’s small population — estimated at 70,000 — Churkin said he told the Security Council: "2,000 killed, is it enough for you? 30,000 refugees, is that enough for you?"

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"How many people have to be killed for genocide? It’s genocide to the South Ossetians," he told reporters after attending Council consultations that again failed to produce agreement on a call for a ceasefire in the bitter fighting between Russia and Georgia.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier called for an investigation into alleged acts of genocide by Georgian forces during their offensive against the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told CNN that his country was ready to take immediate steps towards a ceasefire in South Ossetia, provided Russia stopped its attacks.

"The violence has to stop. Foreign forces have to be withdrawn," US deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said as he stressed the need for a mediation to resolve the conflict.

UN assistant secretary general for peacekeeping Edmond Mulet informed the council that the UN mission in Georgia was forced to withdraw 15 of its peacekeepers from the Kodori Gorge, a Georgian-controlled area of Abkhazia, to ensure their safety as Abkhaz separatists shelled the area.

Georgia claimed to have successfully repelled several Russian attacks on the Kodori Gorge.

Diplomats said Georgia called for yet another meeting of the Council, which could take place in the coming days.

The flurry of UN diplomatic activity came amid mounting international concern as Russia stepped up its military onslaught against Georgia, bombing the key Georgian port and oil staging post of Poti.

France said it would host an EU foreign ministers meeting in Paris early next week and could even stage a special summit on the crisis in Georgia.

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From Beijing, US President George Bush pressed for an end to the Russian bombing of Georgian forces and said Washington, a close ally of Tbilisi, was working with European countries on a mediation effort to end the fighting.

Democratic presidential candidate Barrack Obama said Russia must stop its bombing campaign, cease flights of aircraft in Georgian airspace and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia.

"I condemn Russia’s aggressive actions and reiterate my call for an immediate ceasefire," Obama said in a statement.

But some diplomats here said that Russia might be stalling council efforts to call for a truce to give its troops enough time to boot all Georgian forces out of South Ossetia.

The breakaway enclave is home to 70,000 people, many of whom have been granted Russian citizenship.

Earlier Saturday, Georgia declared a "state of war," saying a Russian air raid had "completely devastated" the Black Sea port of Poti.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia achieved de facto independence from Tbilisi in the early 1990s, but they are not formally recognised by any state.

Moscow tacitly supports the separatists and maintains peacekeeping troops in the two Georgian rebel enclaves.

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