Mixed picture in Georgia as diplomatic efforts for peace continue (Roundup)

August 15th, 2008 - 12:06 am ICT by IANS  

Tbilisi/Moscow, Aug 14 (DPA) The situation in Georgia was one of mixed developments on the ground Thursday amid conflicting reports about ongoing Russian military actions despite the ceasefire and apparent delays in handing police powers back over to the Georgian police in northern city of Gori. On the diplomatic front, Russia and the US exchanged tough comments while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to Tbilisi in a show of American solidarity with Georgia. Rice first landed in France for consultations with President Nicolas Sarkozy.

At the same time, in a development signalling a further move in the direction of a breakoff from Georgia, the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia signed the ceasefire agreement for the southern Caucasus region.

With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev looking on, the internationally-unrecognised leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Eduard Kokoity and Sergei Bagapsh, signed the document, the Interfax agency said.

At the occasion, Medvedev expressed his understanding for the two regions’ desire to break away from Georgia, and pledged that “Russia will support every decision by the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia”.

In Vienna, Georgia accused Russia of still operating in territories of western Georgia and placing mines there. Georgia’s ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) alleged Thursday.

“Despite the fact of the Russian Federation president’s decision to withdraw its forces, still they are coming and occupying parts of Georgia,” Ambassador Victor Dolidze told reporters. As Russia was mining these territories, “we are very close to a humanitarian catastrophe”.

In Geneva, Georgia and Russia traded accusations against each other before the United Nations disarmament negotiating body, the Conference on Disarmament said.

Georgia accused Russia of “serious violations of international human rights”, while Russia accused Georgia of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide, the conference said.

In Tbilisi, the Georgian parliament decided Thursday to pull the country out of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a result of the hostilities with Russia.

Founded in 1991 after the break-up of the former Soviet Union, the CIS is comprised of all the former Soviet republics except for the three Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

Amid the diplomatic and political moves, the situation regarding Russian military actions in Georgia remained unclear. In Tbilisi, Georgia authorities said Russian forces were continuing to destroy Georgia’s military facilities.

The internet agency Civil Georgia cited Georgian border guards as saying that Russian soldiers had again entered the Black Sea port city of Poti and destroyed the radar facilities there.

Meanwhile Georgian radio said that in the city of Senaki, near the border with the breakaway province Abkhazia, Russian troops had cleared out Georgian munitions depots, with loud explosions being heard. The radio’s reporter surmised that part of the munitions were being destroyed.

In Gori, 60 km north of Tbilisi, negotiations were meanwhile continuing over the return of Georgian police to the city. Georgian police vans were parked in a row on the city’s outskirts.

Earlier, the Russian defence ministry had said that during the course of the day, Georgian police would again be placed in charge of controlling the city.

According to a report by the Itar-Tass agency in Tbilisi, Georgia’s interior ministry said that its own police had started to return to the city, but then left again in the face of a stepped-up Russian military presence.

The day’s developments had been preceded by a war of words between Washington and Moscow. Secretary of State Rice, prior to her departure for France and then Georgia, warned Moscow that violations of the ceasefire accord would lead to Russia’s deeper isolation.

Russia for its part demanded that the US commit itself to its partnership with Moscow and to distance itself from Georgia.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said US demands for Georgian territorial integrity was no longer acceptable to Moscow and that such a demand as a precondition for further negotiations was deeply insulting to the people in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

But at the same time, Russia signalled it would not interfere in the aid shipments to Georgia carried out by the US military.

The Interfax agency cited an anonymous Russian government source as saying Russia did not aim to undertake anything against the shipments, which began Wednesday with the first arrival of a C-17 Galaxy transport plane.

“As far as we know, the military plane are carrying exclusively medicine and aid products,” the source told Interfax.

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