(AFP) – Aug 12, 2008
TBILISI (AFP) — Georgia and Russia have agreed to a peace plan brokered by France after Moscow ordered a halt to its military onslaught, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said here Wednesday.
"There is a text. It has been accepted in Moscow, it was accepted here in Georgia. I have the agreement of all the protagonists," Sarkozy said at an early morning news conference in the Georgian capital.
But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said at an early morning news conference with Sarkozy his country would not allow its territorial integrity to be put into doubt under any peace agreement.
"The territorial integrity and belonging of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia can never be put under doubt."
A key reference to negotiation on the "future status" of two rebel zones in Georgia was cut from the peace plan, they said, with talks to focus instead on how to ensure "security and stability" there.
The six-point plan, which obliges the parties to halt fighting, will be reviewed by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, according to Sarkozy.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier ordered a halt to Russia's military offensive against Georgia, but the Tbilisi government reported new attacks as it gathered international support to curtail Moscow.
In announcing the move, Medvedev declared that "the aggressor has been punished and suffered significant losses."
"I have taken the decision to end the operation to force Georgian authorities into peace," Medvedev told defence chiefs at a meeting on the South Ossetia conflict, though he warned any attacks by Georgia would be "liquidated."
Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia on Friday after the Georgian army launched an offensive to regain control of South Ossetia, the Moscow-backed region which broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s.
But NATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels blasted Moscow for "an excessive, disproportionate use of force," and renewed their support for Georgia to ultimately join the military alliance.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Russia's decision to stop its military advance in Georgia "is important but it is not enough," urging both sides to withdraw to their pre-conflict positions.
Georgia said several villages were bombed after Medvedev's announcement. Russia's military angrily denied the claim and said Georgian soldiers were still firing at its troops.
Russian troops and artillery also moved into Georgia's Mestia region near another separatist province, Abkhazia, in the west of the country, the secretary of Georgia's National Security Council told AFP.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Russia that the United States "stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia" and backs its democratically elected government.
But she said the top priority was that "those military operations really do, now, need to stop because calm needs to be restored," she said in Washington.
Before Medvedev's announcement, warplanes bombed the city of Gori, Georgia's security council said. The city's central square was hit and a Dutch cameraman and a Georgian journalist were killed, officials said.
Russian forces moved briefly into the western city of Senaki on Monday and destroyed a military base, officials said. They also entered Georgia's main Black Sea port of Poti.
In a show of defiance to the Russian attacks, 100,000 people packed the main Rustaveli avenue of Tbilisi, where a sea of red-and-white Georgian flags waved above the crowds.
President Mikheil Saakashvili told a rally that Georgia would quit the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of former Soviet states, and urged Ukraine to follow suit.
Georgia has received strong support from other former communist states with the leaders of Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states travelling to Tbilisi where they addressed a mass rally.
"You have the right to freedom and independence. We are here to demonstrate our solidarity ... freedom is worth fighting for," shouted Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in live pictures carried by Georgian television.
Georgia took Russia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for "alleged acts of ethnic cleansing" between 1993 and 2008, starting with the period when Russian peacekeepers entered Georgia's breakaway regions.
Efforts to find a diplomatic way out of the crisis were led Tuesday by the French president, who travelled to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart about a the French-European peace plan.
Sarkozy told Medvedev his announced ceasefire was "good news" but that it had to be implemented.
Russia claims the conflict has left more than 2,000 civilians dead, while the United Nations estimates some 100,000 people have been forced from their homes.
The Georgian health minister Tuesday put the death toll in Georgia at 175 people, mainly civilians.
The United States cancelled on Tuesday a joint naval exercise with Russia in response to the conflict in Georgia, as it considered a range of options to respond to the aggression.
Plans for the August 15-23 FRUKUS naval exercise in the Sea of Japan "have been scrapped," a senion defence official said.
"In the wake of this conflict, there is no way that we can proceed with this joint exercise at this time," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other officials raised questions about Russia's ongoing efforts to join the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as its membership of the Group of Eight most industrialised nations.
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