EU observers view buffer zone at start of Georgia mission
Early morning negotiations with Russian troops still in Georgia were necessary before the observers were allowed to enter the buffer zone.
Tbilisi/Moscow/Berlin -- European Union observers started monitoring the ceasefire between Russia and Georgia on Wednesday, six weeks after the conflict over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Early morning negotiations with Russian troops still in Georgia were necessary before the observers were allowed to enter the buffer zone set up by Moscow forces around South Ossetia, mission leader Hansjoerg Haber told the news agency Interfax.
The Russian military on Tuesday had said the unarmed observers, who are traveling by car to observe the ceasefire, would not even be allowed into the security zone.
Troops at Russian checkpoints on Wednesday morning initially delayed a 20-man EU observer team from setting out into South Ossetia, allowing the European vehicle convoy to advance only after more discussions with Haber, a Russian army spokesman said.
A top goal of the EU mission is ensuing Georgian civilians driven from the buffer zone after fighting erupted in early August will be allowed to return to their villages, Haber said.
The 350 EU observers, most police officers, are in the region to monitor the ceasefire and the promised withdrawal of Russian troops from the buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia has pledged to withdraw all its troops from Georgia proper by Oct. 10, when the EU observers should be able to enter the buffer zones separating Russian and Georgian forces, and take control.
"I hope that this process (of Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia) will be completed before Oct. 10, as stipulated by the ceasefire agreement," said Javier Solana, the EU's senior diplomat, during a Wednesday visit Georgia.
Resolution of the Russo-Georgian standoff has been a top EU diplomatic priority since the end of the August war. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the chief engineer of the ceasefire agreement ending fighting.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were scheduled on Thursday to discuss implementation of the ceasefire agreement, and other regional issues, with members of the Russian cabinet in St Petersburg, the Interfax news agency reported.
"We are for cooperation on the international level with all actors. Russia will not let herself be drawn into a confrontation," claimed Vladimir Kotenov, Russia's ambassador to Germany, in an interview with DPA.
Russia and Western nations led by the G-8 nonetheless are sharply at odds over the Kremlin's August recognition of the two renegade Georgian provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states -- a move criticized in the West as a violation of international law.
Russian diplomats have repeatedly cited Western recognition of the renegade Serbian province Kosovo as grounds legitimizing South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence.
"It is important that the dialogue between Berlin and Moscow continues," said Vladislav Belov, a political scientist from the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences. "Only in that way can the results get any better."