EU secures deal on Russia withdrawal

Following four-hour talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, Moscow has agreed to pull out its troops "from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the line preceding the start of hostilities" by mid-October.

"This withdrawal will be implemented within 10 days of the deployment of international mechanisms in these zones, including no fewer than 200 observers from the European Union, which must take place no later than 1 October 2008," Mr Medvedev said on Monday (8 September).

He promised to dismantle a security checkpoint near the Black Sea port of Poti deep in Georgian territory within seven days - stressing, however, that all depends on Georgia's commitment not to regain control over its two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force.

Under the deal, the new EU monitors will become guarantors of Georgian non-aggression. OSCE and UN monitors will also be allowed to return to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but it remains unclear how many Russian soldiers will stay in the two rebel enclaves for now.

Tbillisi, for its part, welcomed the EU-brokered deal, with President Mikheil Saakashvili describing it on Monday (8 September) as a "step forward."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was frank in his description of the agreement "Honestly, it's not over yet. We are not at the end of the road ... We are advancing step by step."

Should the Kremlin fall short of fulfilling its commitments "Europe will draw the conclusions," he added.

Moscow refuses to bow to pressure when it comes to its decision to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states however, calling the move "a final and irreversible choice."

International talks in Geneva on 15 October will debate the future security in the breakaway regions and Georgian refugees' right of return, but will not discuss their future status, according to the 8 September EU-Russia agreement.

The Kremlin also continues to accuse the United States of "actively helping" Georgia to "restore its military potential" - a claim that Washington denies.

UN hearing starts

Meanwhile, the UN's highest court - the International Court of Justice - on Monday (8 September) opened a three-day public hearing on a case of alleged ethnic cleansing by Russia in Georgia.

Tbillisi claims that Moscow has been conducting ethnic cleansing against Georgians in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has called for urgent protection measures.

President Saakashvili also said he gave "solid proof" to EU leaders when they visited Tbilisi on 8 September that Russia started the war by moving to invade Georgia, not that Georgia started hostilities by attacking South Ossetia.

For its part, the Kremlin has denied the allegations and in return, is accusing Georgia of war crimes committed during its assault of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.

It is also threatening to have Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili tried as a war criminal, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

[Source: By Renata Goldirova and Elitsa Vucheva, Euobserver, Brussels, 09Sep08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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