Germany, EU Step Up Efforts to Help End Caucasian War

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday urgently called for an "immediate and unconditional" ceasefire in the escalating war between Russia and Georgia as Germany's foreign minister engaged in phone diplomacy.

In a telephone conversation with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, Merkel expressed her grave concern regarding a further escalation of the situation in Georgia.

She called for an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire and withdrawal of all military forces to their positions before the start of fighting," according to government spokesman Thomas Steg.

Merkel is due to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian town of Sochi, which lies on the Black Sea, just a few kilometers to the west of the border with Georgian breakaway province Abkhazia.

After the conflict had centered on South Ossetia in the first couple of days, Abkhazia also seemed to become a second hotspot on Sunday with local separatist leaders mobilizing forces and Russia reportedly attacking Georgian cities in the vicinity.

Merkel said that Georgia's territorial integrity had to be respected and that Russian air raids on Georgian territory had to end immediately. The secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, Alexander Lomaia, said Sunday that Russian forces had so far bombed 15 Georgian cities.

"We're talking about total Russian aggression -- by land, air and sea," he said.

Merkel meanwhile told Sarkozy that the German government would support any attempts by the French EU presidency to end the military conflict and seek a political solution.

Steinmeier gets involved

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday also began working actively towards a resolution of the conflict.

According to foreign ministry officials, Germany sees itself in a special position since the country heads the so-called UN Group of Friends of the Secretary General, which has been trying to cool tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi over the breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia. Steinmeier visited Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia in July to present a three-step peace plan but received a muted reception.

Steinmeier has sent Ambassador Hans-Dieter Lucas, the the foreign ministry's envoy for Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, to Tbilisi where he landed late Saturday with representatives from the EU presidency and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in

Europe (OSCE).

He has also made calls to his Georgian and Russian counterparts, urging both of them to start talking to each other directly to resolve the conflict. He also talked with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

French, Finnish FMs head to region

Kouchner and his Finnish counterpart, Alexander Stubb, on Sunday meanwhile headed to Georgia's capital Tbilisi and Moscow in a bid to get the two sides to agree to a ceasefire in the South Ossetian conflict. Stubb is traveling in his capacity as head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

A French foreign ministry spokesman said that Kouchner would be in Tbilisi later Sunday, and would then likely travel on to Moscow on Monday.

Kouchner would make a plea for an immediate ceasefire and would offer humanitarian aid to the region, the ministry spokesman said.

France has already demanded a pullout of Georgian and Russian forces, as well as for respect for Georgia's territorial integrity.

An extraordinary meeting of the EU foreign ministers to discuss the conflict might take place Wednesday in Brussels, the spokesman said. Consultations were going on among EU capitals on setting a date for the meeting.

Polish FM for EU peace mission

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski on Sunday came out in favor of a European Union peace mission.

The EU could be a good partner, because of its credibility in the eyes of both conflict parties, Sikorski told Warsaw's TVN24 news broadcaster.

The foreign minister saw the EU as a "less controversial" peacekeeper than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and more effective than the United Nations.

In talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Sikorski took it that the EU would be prepared to undertake such peacekeeping duties. Until now, Russia troops have been taking the duties of maintaining order in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Pope calls on both sides to remember shared heritage

German-born Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday meanwhile appealed to a "shared Christian heritage" to implore all forces to end their fighting in Georgia and its South Ossetia province which he said, was causing "many innocent victims."

"It is my fervent hope that all military actions cease immediately," Benedict said.

The pontiff made his appeal following his traditional Sunday Angelus prayer before a packed square in the Italian north-eastern Alpine town of Bressanone, where he is currently on vacation.

Benedict was following with "deep anguish" the escalating conflict.

"Also in the name of a shared Christian heritage, refrain from more clashes and from violent retaliation that can degenerate in a wider conflict," Benedict urged, adding that a resumption of peace talks was required.

"Together with our Orthodox brethren, we pray intensely for these intentions, which we trustingly deliver to the intercession of the Holiest Virgin Mary, Mother of God and all Christians," Benedict said.

He was referring to the Orthodox Christian religion of most Russians and Georgians.

[Source: Deutsche Welle, Georgia, 10Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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