EU mulls sending peacekeepers, aid to Georgia

August 13th, 2008 - 6:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Aug 13 (DPA) Despatching international peacekeepers and providing humanitarian aid to the Caucasus topped the agenda of European Union (EU) ministers meeting in Brussels Wednesday. In the wake of the fierce fighting between Russia and Georgia in the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, some EU members have urged the bloc to send peacekeepers to the region to replace the Russian forces there.

An international peace mission would be “a good idea, but they have to accept it. And it is not up to me to decide,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and who has just returned from a diplomatic mission to the region.

The two Russian-dominated regions are currently patrolled by Russian soldiers only.

Under a ceasefire brokered by French diplomats Tuesday, Moscow is to withdraw most of its forces but leave a military presence in the two zones.

But Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski was one of several EU ministers to say that “international forces would be more credible”.

Italy has already said it is willing to contribute up to 1,000 soldiers to such a force.

“We need an international presence,” added Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

And while many Eastern European ministers pointed their fingers at the “disproportionate” use of force by the Russians, powerhouse Germany argued that this was no time for playing the blame game.

“We should not have a long discussion on how to respond to the escalation of the last days. The EU must decide which role it wants to play in the future,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

The German foreign minister said the only way for the EU to play a “real role” in the Caucasus would be to keep its channels with Moscow and Tbilisi open, rather than make “one-sided condemnations”.

“If the EU wants to mediate (between Russia and Georgia) it has to remain objective and impartial,” noted Cyprus’ Markos Kyprianou, a former EU commissioner.

With no hard decisions expected Wednesday, many ministers said the most immediate priority should be to ensure that the ceasefire holds and that humanitarian aid reaches the tens of thousands of people who have displaced by the five-day conflict.

The extraordinary meeting was convened to discuss the latest conflict between Georgia - an EU hopeful - and Russia, which resents the West’s growing influence on its borders.

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