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Georgia: Fighting Spreads; Diplomats Seek Peace

Fighting in Georgia Appears to Spread as Diplomatic Efforts Stepped Up

By Emma Stickgold
Moscow
11 August 2008

Georgian officials have accused Russian forces of expanding their military action to the western part of the country, near a second breakaway region with close ties to Russia. Allegations of fighting in the western part of Georgia came as the two sides traded fresh accusations about fighting near South Ossetia, the breakaway region where the conflict began last week.

Georgian officials say Russian forces have moved into the town of Senaki, which is located near the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Georgian officials say the Russian troops took control of an abandoned military base and police stations.

If true, the reports of Russian military action near Abkhazia would mark an escalation of the fighting, which began last week when Georgian forces launched an attack on the capital of the separatist province of South Ossetia in a bid to reassert control over the area. The action triggered a swift Russian military response, which has been condemned as "disproportionate" by western nations that have been appealing for an immediate halt to the fighting.

In remarks on Monday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to take over all of Georgia.

"And the result and the end game of this operation of Russian troops is to commit ethnic cleansing and the annihilation of the ethnic Georgian population in the entire Abkhazia," said Mikhail Saakashvili. "I want to appeal to the world's present consciousness - can one, in the eyes of today's world, say openly and cynically those lies, and can one still hesitate and so 'oh you know, maybe we should think who is at fault and who is doing what and who started and who responded.' It is so clear what's happening: we are in the process of invasion, occupation and annihilation of an independent democratic country."

Georgian officials have also accused Russian troops of seizing control of the central Georgian town of Gori, which is located just outside the boundary of South Ossetia. Russian officials have flatly denied that Russian troops are in the town. A reporter for the Reuters news agency, who was in Gori Monday, said he saw no trace of Russian troops.

Western nations have launched a series of appeals and diplomatic efforts to end the fighting, which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

Russian officials have taken a hard line and so-far declined a Georgian offer of a cease-fire. At the same time, Russian officials insist they have no plans to seize Georgian territory beyond the borders of the breakaway regions.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the leadership of Georgia to that of Saddam Hussein. President Dmitry Medvedev invoked Mr. Putin's earlier characterization of the Georgian military action as genocide.

Mr. Medvedev said, every effort should be made to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes, so that a criminal prosecution can be carried out.

The recent violence is the worst to break out since South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia 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.

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EC Presses Russia on Georgia

By Tendai Maphosa
London
11 August 2008

The European Commission is calling for Russia to halt its military incursion into Georgia. Tendai Maphosa has the details from London.

The European Commission expressed extreme concern about the fighting in Georgia. Addressing a press briefing in Brussels, Commission spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy called for Russia to halt its military action immediately.

"We consider that that the latest developments such as the crossing of the Georgian borders by Russian troops changed the dimension of the conflict," said Krisztina Nagy. "We therefore call upon Russia to stop immediately all military activity on Georgian territory."

Nagy reiterated support for diplomatic efforts for an agreement to end hostilities that would respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The European Commission also announced the release of nearly $1.5 million in what it described as fast-track aid to help cover the urgent humanitarian needs of thousands of civilians affected by the fighting.

European Commission spokesman John Clancy told VOA the fighting has displaced at least 30,000 civilians and the number is likely to increase. He said more money for humanitarian assistance would be made available if needed.

"We are providing through this funding of one million euros in areas such as basic emergency shelter tents, for example, or food or water and sanitation, all these issues need to be dealt with when you have populations on the move," said John Clancy.

Clancy called for the parties involved in the fighting to respect humanitarian law and to provide safe passage to civilians fleeing from the fighting.

Georgian forces moved against the breakaway province of South Ossetia last week in an effort to restore control. The move drew a quick Russian military response. Georgia has agreed to a ceasefire and accuses the Russians of continuing to attack Georgian territory.

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UNHCR to Airlift Emergency Supplies to Georgia

By Lisa Schlein
Geneva
11 August 2008

The U.N. refugee agency says it is mounting an emergency airlift of relief supplies to Georgia. About 90,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting between Georgian and Russian forces. The first flight will leave Monday night from Dubai and will be followed by a second airlift on Wednesday from Copenhagen. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

UNHCR Spokesman Andrej Mahecic tells VOA the agency has released $2 million from its emergency fund to fly essential non-food items to the stricken area.

He says the conditions under which people are living in both Georgia and Russia are difficult and dire.

"Most of the people seem to be at the moment in the public buildings, such as schools," said Andrej Mahecic. "There are also in Georgia about 1,600 collective centers hosting some 100,000 internally displaced already. There is some room in those. We are also ready to provide temporary shelter if needed as well as the basic non-food items, such as the blankets that will be brought in, jerry cans, kitchen sets and so on."

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is renewing his call for humanitarian access and safe passage for uprooted civilians. He says he welcomes reports that Georgia and Russia will establish two humanitarian corridors out of conflict-ridden South Ossetia - one to Georgia and one to North Ossetia in Russia.

Mahecic says the priority is to get safe passage for civilians,

"The situation is still very volatile and we estimate that many people need help and many are seeking safety elsewhere," he said. "Therefore it is essential that UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are able to reach the affected and the displaced and that those who are, indeed, trapped in the conflict areas are granted passage to safer areas as soon as possible. It is also absolutely essential that both sides respect humanitarian principles and ensure the protection and safety of civilians."

Mahecic says the UNHCR is sending an emergency team to Georgia to help with the relief effort. He says the agency has six offices and more than 50 staff members in Georgia. It also is present in both South and North Ossetia.

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US Backs International Mediation in Georgia Crisis

By David Gollust
State Department
11 August 2008

The United States joined other members of the Group of Seven industrial powers in endorsing mediation in the Russia-Georgia conflict by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Finnish counterpart Alexander Stubb. A U.S. envoy has been sent to the region to try to strengthen peace efforts. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials at the State Department say the conference call by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her G-7 foreign-minister colleagues was one of more than 50 calls Rice has made to world leaders in a round of telephone diplomacy on the Georgia crisis.

The State Department said the seven countries reaffirmed support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and called for Russia to respect them and accept the immediate cease-fire being offered by the Georgians.

They also expressed deep concern over civilian casualties and continued attacks on civilian locations, and endorsed the mediation effort being undertaken by France and Finland on behalf of the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said Rice has dispatched a senior envoy to the region to support the mediation effort.

He said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Mathew Bryza had left Washington late Sunday, but provided no itinerary details.

Spokesman Wood, under questioning, rejected suggestions that the United States lacks leverage over Moscow in its demands that Russia cease its offensive in Georgia.

Wood said world opinion has been galvanized by what the United States has described as Moscow's disproportionate response to developments in Georgia and said Russia would be well advised to heed calls to end the conflict:

"It is not just the United States here," said Robert Wood. "It is the United States and its allies, and world opinion that wants to see this conflict ended. We want to see the Russians stand down and to stop attacks on Georgia. Most importantly we want to see an immediate cease-fire. We want to see a mediation effort work. Mediation is needed. We want to see the Russians accept mediation."

Though spokesman Wood declined to detail Secretary Rice's diplomatic contacts, a senior official said she had spoken at least three times with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also acknowledged having multiple conversations with Rice.

Spokesman Wood said the United States has been in touch with Georgian officials about helping facilitate the return of Georgia's 2,000 - troop contingent from Iraq because of the crisis, but did not elaborate.

Russia has complained that such aid would amount to an active American role in the conflict, and Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitali Churkin has suggested that U.S. officials may have given Georgia a "green light" to launch its offensive in South Ossetia.

Wood said the United States is not in the business of providing green lights on such matters and said questions about Georgia's decision should be directed to the government in Tbilisi.

He said in any case there is "enough blame to go around" and that U.S. efforts are focused on how to end a very dangerous conflict.

***

French, Russian Leaders to Discuss Georgia Crisis

By Lisa Bryant
Paris
11 August 2008

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to hold talks in Moscow Tuesday with his Russian counterpart in a bid to find a solution to the conflict in Georgia. Lisa Bryant reports from Paris the trip comes as European Union foreign ministers are set for a crisis meeting Wednesday on the situation.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to Russia comes after Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told reporters he had accepted an international ceasefire proposal over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia. Mr. Saakashvili also said Mr. Sarkozy will be holding talks with him in Georgia, as well as with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. The French president will also speak on behalf of the European Union, which France currently heads.

The international community has sounded the alarm over the sharp clashes between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, which has also spilled into other parts of Georgia, including Abkhazia, another breakaway territory.

The European Commission called Monday for an immediate halt to Russian military activity in Georgia. French and Finnish foreign ministers were also in Georgia Monday and were planning to hold talks in Moscow, to take stock of the situation.

Tomas Valasek, defense and foreign policy director at the Centre for European Reform in London, says mediation by the 27-member block can have an effect.

"The EU has influence over Russia. Russia does want to be accepted as a legitimate member of the international community. It is, of course a member of the G8, the UN Security Council. It wants to be a member of the World Trade Organization. It wants to have special, privileged relations with the EU and with NATO. So it does care about what the world thinks," said Valasek.

Valasek says Europe should send one message in particular.

"It needs to emphasize to Russia that it [should not] use the conflict over South Ossetia and now Abkhazia to wage a bigger, broader conflict against Georgia itself. And again, we do have influence to make sure that doesn't happen," added Valasek.

EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels Wednesday for more talks on the conflict in Georgia.

***

ENDS

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