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Georgia Offers Cease-Fire To Breakaway Region

August 07, 2008
By Marina Vashakmadze

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has offered South Ossetia a unilateral cease-fire in an effort to deescalate rapidly rising tensions between the two sides.

Saakashvili made his comments late on August 7 in the aftermath of renewed violence with Georgia's breakaway region.

"I am offering you an immediate cease-fire and immediate talks," Saakashvili said. "I reiterate my plan, which was put forward three years ago and which was improved in the following years, of virtually unlimited autonomy and self-administration for South Ossetia."

The offer came as a senior U.S. official told Reuters that Washington and Moscow have agreed to work together to stop the recent fighting. Russia had earlier accused Georgia of preparing for war.

Fresh Violence

Aleksandre Lomaia, secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, told reporters in Tbilisi that one Georgian soldier was killed on the evening of August 7 by a fresh round of mortar fire from South Ossetian separatists.

Georgian and South Ossetian forces fired on each other on the night of August 6-7, just hours after hopes for bilateral talks tentatively set for August 7 in Tskhinvali were dashed by the South Ossetian authorities.

Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili had telegraphed Saakashvili's cease-fire announcement, telling RFE/RL's Georgian Service on August 7 that Tbilisi would seek to exhibit restraint with the breakaway province of South Ossetia as part of an effort to deescalate tensions.

"We will try not to return fire coming from the separatists," Iakobashvili said. "We have already shown such goodwill in the past, however this goodwill has not been taken adequately."

Iakobashvili spoke by telephone en route from Tskhinvali to Tbilisi after he met with Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Russian-led joint peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.

Iakobashvili, who earlier had said he hoped talks between Georgian and South Ossetian authorities could be rescheduled, said Kulakhmetov agreed that it was important that the two sides meet soon to reduce tensions.

"During our meeting the general and I spoke in detail about the current situation," Iakobashvili said. "The general is also concerned about the current situation and he says the only way to stop the escalation is through a direct dialogue, a meeting. He is very disappointed with the refusal of the separatists to take part in the meeting."

The South Ossetian authorities have said that bilateral talks are not an option, as they refuse to meet outside the framework of the Joint Control Commission, which includes representatives from South Ossetia, Georgia, Russia, and the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

Blame Game

South Ossetia and Georgia each blames the other for the renewed violence.

South Ossetian authorities claimed that 18 people were wounded as a result of Georgian fire on the night of August 6-7, which they say targeted several villages in the province as well as its capital of Tskhinvali.

The leader of the Russia-backed breakaway region, Eduard Kokoity, accused Georgian forces of starting the fighting.

"Russian peacekeepers did everything to make the Georgian side stop firing mortars, grenade launchers and large-caliber weapons on the city of Tskhinvali," Kokoity said. "But the firing didn't cease, and we were forced to return fire. We will now do our best to suppress this."

Iakobashvili, in turn, in an August 7 statement blamed South Ossetia for initiating the hostilities.

"They came up with a new method. They shoot at us from civilian objects, from schools and hospitals, so that in case of return fire that causes damages, they can present it as a barbarian act by the Georgians," Iakobashvili said. "This is indeed a barbarian act on their part, because they carry out their propaganda at the expense of the life, health, and well-being of residents."

Earlier on August 7, President Saakashvili traveled to the city of Gori, close to the de facto border with South Ossetia, to visit two Georgian troops wounded in the overnight fighting.

He, too, pinned the blame on South Ossetia and its longtime backer Russia, and urged all sides to "put an end to this craziness."

"I'm sure that the deepening of the confrontation is not in the Russian Federation's interests. It is certainly not in Georgia's interests," Saakashvili said. What is happening now is the result of a long-standing policy of hysterical militarization, of constant war rhetoric, of the militaristic propaganda waged by Russian television over the past few days over this tiny region that is home to just 30,000 people. Those who have pursued this policy all these years are responsible for all of this."

Calls For Restraint

Tensions between Georgia and its two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have grown more intense in recent months.

Both regions broke away from central Georgian government in a war in the early 1990s. Moscow's political and financial support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia has riled Saakashvili, who has vowed to bring back both regions into the fold. Georgia has angered Moscow by pushing for NATO membership.

The United States, Georgia's main ally in the West, on August 6 urged all sides to resume negotiations.

The OSCE's chairman-in-office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, on August 7 expressed concern about the deteriorating situation.

"The situation in the conflict zone is extremely tense and requires immediate deescalation. I have been in contact with Tbilisi and Tskhinvali today and urged them to stop all military action and reestablish direct contacts," Stubb said in a statement. "I expressed concern that their representatives failed to meet today and reiterated an invitation to the parties to meet in Helsinki as soon as possible. I also plan to visit Georgia in the near future."

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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