Merkel in Georgia for talks, demands Russian pullout

August 18th, 2008 - 12:31 am ICT by IANS  

Berlin, Aug 17 (DPA) German Chancellor Angela Merkel landed in the Georgian capital Tbilisi Sunday as part of the European Union (EU)’s mediation efforts in the Georgia-Russia stand-off over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Merkel met Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the early afternoon and pressed for strict adherence to the recently agreed ceasefire, signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Saturday, one day after Saakashvili.

Merkel demanded that Russia withdraw all its troops from Georgia’s core territory when she met Medvedev in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Friday.

Speaking at a Sunday press conference in Tbilisi, she said that despite Medvedev’s commitment to removal of Russian troops from Georgia, “according to the information available to me this (Russian withdrawal) has not yet begun”.

“This process should not drag out for weeks,” she added.

Merkel also repeated that Germany’s position was that Georgia’s territorial integrity was beyond question, and that its borders should be inviolate.

The German leader hinted her country, formerly unenthusiastic about early Georgian entrance into NATO, might be reconsidering its position, saying: “This (the proposal NATO extend a formal invitation for Georgia to embark on NATO accession) will of course come up for review in December … and we will look at this very closely.”

Merkel in comments to reporters confirmed discussions were under way with Georgia, and via French President Nicolas Sarkozy with Russia, for the positioning of a European peacekeeping force in the Ossetia region, and that Germany might contribute soldiers to the force.

Merkel emphasised a need for Russian demilitarisation not just of Georgian occupied territory but the disputed Ossetia region, saying, “There should be no Russian regular troops stationed in proximity to the Georgian border”.

Russian peacekeepers in the region, she said, were no longer a possibility.

“There are no Russian peacekeepers, there are only Russian troops,” she said, the Interfax news agency reported.

Georgian television described Merkel’s presence in Georgia as “part of an international effort to support Georgia”.

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