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Sarkozy heads to Russia on peace mission PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 August 2008

Tbilisi, Aug 12 ( - French President Nicolas Sarkozy will lead efforts on Tuesday to end hostilities between Russia and Georgia as the conflict appeared to widen with pro-Moscow rebel forces opening a fresh offensive against Georgian troops.

Sarkozy was due to arrive in Moscow at 0910 GMT and meet President Dmitry Medvedev before flying to Georgia on a day of intense diplomacy aimed at ending violence in a region key to international oil transit.

Pro-Western Georgia and Russia came into direct conflict over South Ossetia last week after Tbilisi launched an offensive to regain control over the pro-Moscow breakaway separatist region.

Hostilities appeared to broaden as Abkhazia, another Russia-backed rebel region, launched an offensive at dawn on Tuesday to force Georgian troops out of the disputed Kodori gorge, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said.

"The operation to liberate Kodori gorge has started," he told Russia's Vesti channel. "Our troops are making advances. We are hoping for success."

U.S. President George W. Bush demanded Russia end its armed conflict with Georgia and accused the Kremlin of trying to topple Georgia's leadership.

"Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century," Bush said.

He said a "dramatic and brutal escalation" of Russia's push into Georgia would jeopardise relations with the West.

Georgia hosts a key oil pipeline supplying the West and the fighting has unsettled oil markets. It has alarmed investors in Russia and has raised fears of a wider conflagration in the volatile region bordering Iran, Turkey and Russia.

Asked what would happen if Moscow ignored Bush's appeal, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said:

"There is of course a variety of other measures, political or economic," he said, without elaborating.


Moscow has snubbed Western pleas for a ceasefire and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, taking a leading role in the crisis, has accused Georgia of sparking the crisis.

"The Cold War has long ended but the mentality of the Cold War has stayed firmly in the minds of several U.S. diplomats. It is a real shame," Putin said.

Russian officials have said they have no intention of occupying territory beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But Russian forces appear to have pushed farther into Georgia. Bush also said there was evidence Russian forces would soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the Georgian capital.

Georgia called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to intervene to halt its conflict with Russia, and said its battered forces had retreated to defend the capital Tbilisi.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Moscow should know Georgia will not quit. "Georgia will never surrender," he said on CNN. "They (Russians) should know Georgia will never surrender."

Georgia's acting head of its embassy in London said there was a need for international troops to get involved:

"Let it be a U.N-mandated international force, ideally EU," Giorgi Badridze told Reuters in an interview late on Monday.

Saakashvili said Russian forces had taken control of Georgia's main east-west route, effectively bisecting the country. He urged Georgians to stay home and not panic.

At the United Nations, permanent Security Council member Russia dismissed as unacceptable a French draft resolution calling for a ceasefire in Georgia that was due to reach the U.N. Security Council soon.

Saakashvili said earlier he had agreed to a plan proposed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner under which hostilities would end, a mixed peacekeeping force would be deployed -- replacing the purely Russian one -- and troops would return to pre-conflict positions.

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition he not be named, said the outlook was "grim" and that Russia had planned its moves in Georgia for some time.

"This appears to be a full invasion of Georgia with an end result uncertain and an objective that is not clear but appears to be aggressive in nature," said the official. "Words like invasion should not be used lightly but this is an invasion."

In Georgia, an emergency session of parliament was called on Tuesday. Russia says 1,600 people have been killed in the fighting and thousands are homeless but these figures are not independently verifiable.

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