Russia wants Georgian leader to step down: US

August 11th, 2008 - 4:43 am ICT by IANS  

New York, Aug 11 (DPA) Moscow wants Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to resign, the US told the UN Security Council as it met Sunday to review the growing conflict in Georgia. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the council in an open meeting that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had discussed the conflict with his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, and demanded the resignation of Saakashvili, apparently as part of a settlement of the flare-up in fighting that began Thursday.

Saakashvili had been campaigning to prevent the secession of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia and has clashed with Russia’s own interests in protecting Russian inhabitants in those two enclaves, which are de facto independent from Tbilisi.

The council held a brief open meeting to hear views of some council members and then retreated into its own chamber for more discussion. Georgia Sunday declared a unilateral ceasefire.

In Moscow, Larov later said Rice had misinterpreted his statements. He said although Russia holds Saakashvili responsible for crimes against Russian citizens, he did not want the leader to step down and only wanted Georgian troops to leave South Ossetia.

British Deputy Ambassador Karen Pierce said she understood that Saakashvili had tried to contact Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for several hours to no avail.

“If leaders are not prepared to talk to each other, it’s hard to see how peace efforts can more forward,” Pierce said.

She said, based on reports of military activities in Georgia, that Russia appeared to have made “grave violation” of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“Russian forces have certainly violated respect for international norms of peacekeeping and it is a grotesque distortion by Russia to claim that their actions are promoting peace,” Pierce said in the strongest language used by a council member.

“Those actions have gone beyond any reasonable proportionate response,” she said.

The White House had also accused Russia of using disproportionate military forces against Georgia.

The council has held four meetings since the conflict erupted in Georgia, but has not been able to formulate a common position to deal
with the situation.

Russia has rejected so far a ceasefire with Georgia and has said it would veto any call by the 15-nation council.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Sunday that fighting in Georgia’s Abkhazia could be “dangerously destabilising” to the region
following reports that the breakaway territory was mobilising for a military operation.

The UN said the fighting has spread beyond South Ossetia, where the Russian army has been engaged in fighting with Georgian troops since Thursday.

Ban said in a statement that he was “profoundly concerned” over mounting tensions in Abkhazia’s conflict zone, including the bombing of the Upper Kodori Valley and the ongoing military build-up along the security zone.

“In the context of the announcement by the Abkhaz de facto authorities of a military operation in the Upper Kodori Valley, which could be dangerously destabilising, I am calling for the exercise of maximum restraint by all concerned as well as the guarantee of the safety and security of the unarmed UN military observers,” he said.

Ban urged “all parties to immediately end hostilities and to engage, without delay, in negotiations to achieve a peaceful settlement”.

Abkhazia Saturday asked the UN to pull out its 15 military observers from the Upper Korori Valley, which it did. The unit was moved to Sukumi.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, inhabited by a majority of Russians, have been pressing for independence from Georgia.

Meanwhile in Strasbourg, the head of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, Lluis Maria de Puig, criticised both Russia and Georgia - both members of the European organisation - for their actions.

The Spanish politician accused Moscow and Tbilisi of “flagrant violation of basic democratic rights” in the conflict and noted that both countries, when they were accepted as members of the Council of Europe, had pledged a peaceful solution “without the use of violence”.

He said Russia’s military actions had gone “far beyond the responsibility for maintaining the peace” in the region.

Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 and Georgia three years later.

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