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S Ossetia: Georgia Orders Its Troops To Cease-Fire

By Emma Stickgold
Moscow
10 August 2008

LATEST: Georgia Orders Cease-Fire in South Ossetia

Georgia says it has ordered its troops in the breakaway region of South Ossetia to cease fire, after withdrawing its troops from South Ossetia's capital. There was no direct response from Russia to Georgia's offer to negotiate an end to three days of fierce fighting in the region. Russia says Georgia is still firing at targets in South Ossetia, Georgia says Russia has again bombed Gori, and dropped bombs near the international airport of Tbilisi.

A column of Russian tanks near the town of Dzhava in the separatist Georgian province of South Ossetia, 10 Aug 2008
Russian officials say they now control most of Tkhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, as the conflict between Russia and Georgia widened. The fighting spread to Abkhazia, Georgia's other breakaway region, and Georgian officials said Russian planes bombed a military airfield outside the Georgian capital.

Abkhazia announced it had mobilized troops, and called up reservists Sunday to reassert control over the one part of the province that remains under Georgian control.

Russia sent naval vessels to Georgia's Black Sea coast. Ukrainian officials warned that they may bar Russian warships taken from the key Russian naval base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol from returning.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned Georgia's offensive in South Ossetia, which began early Friday, when Georgia sought to gain control of the region from separatists.

Mr. Putin said there were signs of genocide against the Ossetian people.

Georgian officials described their troop withdrawal from South Ossetia's capital as a goodwill measure aimed at stopping the military confrontation. Officials said they have asked the United States to mediate the conflict.

The United States called Russia's actions "disproportionate" and called for a cease-fire and return to the status quo of August 6, before the Georgian offensive began.

Russia and Georgia agreed to open two humanitarian corridors to evacuate the wounded and refugees in South Ossetia.

Rita Khopzhayva, one such refugee, painted a bleak picture of the situation.

"It's hell," she said, describing it as a massive use of bombs preventing escape. "Children are hungry," she said. "There is no water, no light, no bread, no gas, nothing. It's a nightmare," she said, adding, "There is nothing you can compare it to."

The fighting began Friday when Georgia sought to regain South Ossetia from separatists in a major offensive. Russia, which has close ties to the province, responded by sending thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks.

Leaders from around the world have called on both sides to end the fighting, issuing statements deploring the current situation and sending a delegation of high-level diplomats.

The recent violence is the worst since the region won de facto independence in 1992. South Ossetians are eager to join fellow Ossetians in North Ossetia, which was included within Russian borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

***

EARLIER

10 AUGUST 2008

US, Russia Trade Accusations at Security Council Over Georgia

By Margaret Besheer
United Nations

Relations between the United States and Russia were visibly tense during a U.N. Security Council meeting Sunday on the situation in Georgia, with the U.S. accusing Russia of seeking regime change in Georgia. Washington is a staunch ally of Georgia, which Moscow accuses of causing a humanitarian catastrophe in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Many South Ossetians hold Russian nationality, and Russia has sent troops into the region. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

At the rare Sunday session of the council, called jointly by the United States and Georgia, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad questioned Russia's motives in sending some 10,000 troops into South Ossetia in recent days to prevent Georgia from reasserting control over the Russian-backed breakaway region.

"Russia has claimed that its military operations were intended to protect its peacekeepers and the civilian population in South Ossetia," said Zalmay Khalilzad. "Yet, its reaction goes far beyond any reasonable measures required to do so. Indeed, its escalation of the conflict has been the immediate cause of increased loss of innocent life and humanitarian suffering."

Khalilzad said Russia's expansion of the conflict to another separatist region of Georgia - Abkhazia - and attacks on areas around Georgia's capital, Tblisi, "suggest other motives and objectives." He also accused Russia of obstructing the withdrawal of Georgian forces from South Ossetia.

He said the United States has begun consulting with other like-minded members of the Security Council and would soon introduce a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire. If such a resolution were strongly critical of Russia's role in the crisis, Moscow would likely use its veto power to quash it.

Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, responded to the U.S. accusations, calling charges that Russia is targeting civilians and conducting a "campaign of terror" against the Georgian population, "unacceptable" and "propaganda" that had no place in the council. He said Moscow is not obstructing the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the conflict zone.

Churkin said charges that Moscow is refusing international mediation are false, and pointed to several conversations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the last few days.

Khalilzad seized on that and said the two top envoys' latest telephone conversation "raised serious concerns about Russia's objectives" in Georgia.

"In that conversation, Foreign Minister Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Rice that a democratically elected president of Georgia - and I quote - 'must go.' I quote again: 'Saakashvili must go.' This is completely unacceptable and crosses the line," he said. "I want to ask Ambassador Churkin, is your government's objective regime change in Georgia? The overthrow of the democratically elected government of Georgia?"

Ambassador Churkin's response was swift.

"Your interesting reference to the diplomatic telephone call - this confidential call between our minister and your secretary of state," said Vitaly Churkin. "I would like to say straight away, that regime change is an American expression. We do not use such an expression. I'm encouraged by the fact that you have referred to this publicly - I suggest that this means this is an interesting idea and that you are ready to bring this forward to the public platform."

Ambassador Khalilzad was not satisfied.

"I want to restate my question to Ambassador Churkin, he did not answer my question," he said. "Is the goal of the Russian Federation to change the leadership of Georgia?"

"I suggest that I gave a complete response," said Churkin. "Maybe the ambassador was not listening when I gave my response? Maybe he did not have his earpiece on? I suggest that I gave a full response to that question."

The U.S. ambassador was also strongly critical of Russia's refusal to call for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire. Russia's envoy repeated his country's demands that Georgian forces must withdraw from South Ossetia and agree to sign an accord saying Tblisi will not use force with the breakaway republic before it would agree to a cessation of hostilities.

***

10 AUGUST 2008

European Leaders Concerned About Georgia-Russia Conflict

By Sabina Castelfranco
Rome

European leaders have expressed concern as fighting escalated between Russia and Georgia over Southern Ossetia, and dispatched high-level diplomats to help broker a cease-fire. Pope Benedict XVI also called for an immediate end to the hostilities. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Sunday described the hostilities in South Ossetia as "massacres." He said the European Union, which France currently heads, could not allow such a terribly devastating and unacceptable war.

"We cannot, as the European Union presidency, we cannot accept at our doors, just very close to Europe, to accept such a middle age [medieval] battle. Impossible," said Bernard Kouchner.

Kouchner was speaking just before heading to Tbilisi with his Finnish counterpart Alexander Stubb for a meeting with the Georgian president. They were scheduled to travel on from Tbilisi to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Stubb is traveling in his capacity as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 56-nation security organization that has both Russia and Georgia as members.

Kouchner said he would call on both countries to bring the fighting to an immediate stop in the breakaway province. The European Union, whose six-month rotating presidency is currently held by France, is expected to offer to help provide humanitarian aid to victims.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with the Georgian president and other European leaders about the escalation of the conflict. He has proposed a plan, which calls for the return of Russian and Georgian troops to their former positions and requires Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity to be respected.

The NATO secretary general declared that Russia violated Georgia's territorial integrity in South Ossetia.

In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres also expressed concern over the plight of thousands of civilians caught up in fighting in and around South Ossetia. He has called on all sides to avoid harming civilians and ensure their safe passage.

Meanwhile, from the Italian Alps where he is on vacation, Pope Benedict called Sunday for an immediate halt to the fighting.

Expressing concern that such a conflict could widen, he spoke of his profound anguish at the violence that has already caused many innocent victims, and forced many civilians to leave their homes.

The pope urged the international community to make every effort to support and promote initiatives aimed at reaching a peaceful and lasting solution, in favor of an open and respectful coexistence.


***

10 AUGUST 2008

Georgian, Russian Leaders Heat Up Rhetoric as Fighting Rages On

By Emma Stickgold
Moscow

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out at Georgia Saturday, saying the country has effectively lost the right to rule the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Georgia's president, meanwhile, called Russia's actions "madness," and urged an immediate cease-fire. A joint European-U.S. mission to Georgia aims to broker a cease-fire in the conflict, as fighting continued for a second day Saturday. Emma Stickgold in Moscow has this report.

Russian Prime Minister Putin traveled to the Russian town of Vladikavkaz, near South Ossetia, as the conflict showed no signs of abating. Mr. Putin said Georgia's attack on South Ossetia Friday struck a deadly blow against its sovereignty.

Mr. Putin called the situation a humanitarian catastrophe, citing the casualties and bombardment of what he said were civilian targets. He said, since August 2nd, 34,000 refugees have crossed the border into Russia.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said he hoped the United States would help to convince Georgia to sign a legally binding agreement not to use force, while Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, said that, until Georgian troops resume their pre-offensive positions, a cease-fire would not occur.

Leaders from around the world have called on both sides to stand down, issuing statements deploring the fighting, and sending members of a delegation of high-level diplomats who hope to serve as a catalyst for a cease-fire.

Georgia launched an offensive Friday to re-take control of breakaway South Ossetia from separatists. Russia, which has issued passports to many of the province's residents, responded by sending troops and tanks.

South Ossetia's capital Tskinvali was in ruins as the region entered its second day of fighting between separatists and Georgian forces. Fighting also spread to Abkhazia, another breakaway region in Georgia. Georgian officials also say Russia staged airstrikes on Georgian military bases and bombed the Black Sea port city of Poti, which is home to key oil shipping facilities, and the Georgian town of Gori near South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called for an immediate cease-fire Saturday, saying the current violence is not in Russia or Georgia's interest.

Saakashvili asked President Medvedev to stop what he described as "this madness" and charged Russia with attempting to destroy Georgian freedom. He said that while the country should not show it is afraid - for Georgia, "This is all very hard."

The recent spate of violence is the worst to break out since the region won de facto independence in 1992. South Ossetians are eager to join fellow Ossetians in North Ossetia, which was included within Russian borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

***

09 AUGUST 2008

US President Appeals for End to Bloodshed in S. Ossetia

By Paula Wolfson
Beijing

U.S. President George Bush is urging an end to the fighting in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports from Beijing, where Mr. Bush is attending the Olympic Games.

President Bush says the fighting must stop.

"I am deeply concerned about the situation in Georgia," he said. "The United States takes this matter very seriously."

He says he is particularly troubled by the fact the conflict is spreading to other parts of Georgia - a reference to Russian bombings beyond the borders of South Ossetia.

"The violence is endangering regional peace," said President Bush. "Civilian lives have been lost and others are endangered."

South Ossetia's autonomous status was abolished by the Georgian government in 1990, then reinstated in 1992. The current government in Tblisi has vowed to bring it back into the fold and on Thursday launched a military operation to do just that.

But South Ossetia has strong ties to Moscow, which supports the separatist movement. When Georgia sent its forces in, the Russians responded by sending in more troops and bombers.

President Bush says all sides need to step back, stop hostilities, and work with mediators to resolve the conflict.

"Georgia is a sovereign nation and its territorial integrity must be respected," he said. "We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops."

White House officials say President Bush re-enforced the U.S. position in separate conversations with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. In his brief comments to reporters in Beijing, Mr. Bush called on Russia to stop bombing and start cooperating with peace efforts.

"Russia needs to support these efforts so that peace can be restored as quickly as possible," he said.

Russian officials claim 1,500 lives have been lost and tens of thousands have fled to bordering North Ossetia in Russia.

The feud between Russia and Georgia has pitted two former Soviet Republics against each other, drawing international concern.

The United States, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced Friday they were sending a delegation to Georgia in hopes of securing a cease-fire.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet again Saturday to discuss the crisis.

***

ENDS

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