Rice arrives in Georgia, Russians not moving out (Second Lead)August 15th, 2008 - 8:01 pm ICT by IANS
Tbilisi, Aug 15 (DPA) US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Tbilisi Friday for peace talks, as Russia’s military continued to occupy two Georgian provinces despite a ceasefire agreement obliging them to leave. Rice was set to meet with members of the Georgian leadership to discuss the implementation of a ceasefire plan for the region, and humanitarian aid to Georgia being delivered by the US Air Force and Navy.
The draft document allows Russia its past ability to retain troops in the two Georgian separatist provinces Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the new right of conducting military patrols 10 km into Georgia proper.
In another major concession to Moscow, the proposed ceasefire agreement avoids referring to either province as inherently part of Georgia.
The Rice plan also suggests Georgia’s final borders - and thus the final status of Ossetia and Abkhazia - would be determined by further negotiations. Georgia’s government in the past has rejected any suggestion the two provinces be outside Georgian sovereignty.
Russia earlier this week gave its acceptance of the placement of independent peacekeepers, possibly from the European Union (EU), in the region.
Rice in remarks in Paris said she was aware the proposals were substantially less than what Tbilisi desired, but added “We would never ask Georgia to do anything that was not in its interests”.
Rice, in Tbilisi after Thursday consultations in Paris, warned Moscow that further violations of the ceasefire accord would lead to Russia’s deeper isolation.
US President George W. Bush’s decision to send Georgia support aboard US military aircraft and warships has turned the Ossetia conflict into a clear face-off between the Kremlin and Washington, despite claims by both sides that they only want peace in the region.
Commanders of Russia’s 58th Army Friday morning still were delaying a planned evacuation of Gori, claiming that the Georgian military was unprepared to guarantee security in the region.
Looting and attacks in Gori by Ossetian militia, in part in retaliation for damage inflicted by the Georgian army on the Ossetian city Tskhinvali, was a substantial threat to civil order despite Russian military efforts to repress it, said Viacheslav Borisov, 58th Army commander, in a Thursday interview.
Russian marine infantry forces were also occupying the Georgian port city Poti Friday, more than three days after the end of active hostilities in the six-day Ossetia war, witnesses said.
Russian troops appeared to be focusing on demolishing an infantry brigade home base near Gori, and naval and military communications facilities in Poti, according to Georgia media reports.
Georgian radio reported that in the city of Senaki, near the Abkhazia border, Russian troops had emptied Georgian munitions depots, with loud explosions being heard.
In Warsaw, Poland agreed Thursday to host part of a US anti-missile shield, capping more than a year of tough bargaining over a project that had infuriated Russia, despite assurances from Washington that the system is meant to counter missile threats from Iran, and is too small to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
Polish President Polish President Lech Kaczynski called the Russian move into Georgia a “very strong argument” for wrapping up the missile defence talks.