Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 14:32 UK

EU plans Georgia peace monitors

Russian soldier taking cover on way into Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, 11 Aug 08
The ceasefire is shaky in and around South Ossetia

The European Union says it is ready to send monitors to help implement a ceasefire in Georgia, but it wants a corresponding UN resolution first.

"We're determined to act on the ground. Many countries said 'we're ready to join in'," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

He was speaking after a special meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, called to tackle the Georgia crisis.

Mr Kouchner helped broker a Georgia-Russia ceasefire on Tuesday.

He went to the conflict zone as well as Moscow and Tbilisi, on an EU mission with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. France is the current holder of the EU presidency.

Mr Kouchner said the EU should send "monitors", but not a force, to help secure peace in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Call to end 'barbarism'

He said he was "encouraged" by the response of France's EU partners and the next stage would be to table a corresponding resolution at the UN.

With the OSCE we can try to resolve this conflict... Frozen conflicts have a tendency to thaw out
Bernard Kouchner

"It's urgent to end this barbarism," he told a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

"The EU will try to intervene. There's a lot of political work to carry out - but right now we're focusing on stopping the war… so that women no longer see their children's throats cut," he said.

Russia has led the peacekeeping mission in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region of Georgia, since separatists fought for self-rule there in the early 1990s. The EU has not formed part of the peacekeeping force.

In a joint statement, the EU foreign ministers said it was "crucial" for the EU quickly to reinforce the existing observer mission of the European security organisation, the OSCE, in South Ossetia.

The ministers said the EU must be ready for engagement in the conflict zone, to bolster the peacekeeping efforts of the UN and OSCE.

Under its 1994 mandate, the OSCE was tasked with monitoring the ceasefire in South Ossetia, liaising with local commanders and investigating any truce violations. Meanwhile, UN monitors have been doing a similar job in Abkhazia.

According to the EU statement, one of the ceasefire conditions agreed on Tuesday states that Russian forces must pull back to their original pre-combat positions and that, pending an international mechanism, the Russian peacekeepers "will implement additional security measures". It does not specify what those measures are.

Divisions over Russia

Russia said the "international aspect" of peacekeeping in the conflict zone "could be reinforced".

A Georgian man walks by his destroyed apartment building in Gori, Georgia, 12 August 2008
Gori is largely a ghost town, with heavy damage from shelling

"They probably need to be given new functions, because it is extremely important to monitor the actions Georgia takes," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

He ruled out any role for Georgian peacekeepers, saying they had formed part of the peacekeeping contingent in South Ossetia "but turned out to be simply traitors and cowards".

The BBC's Dominic Hughes, in Brussels, says sharp divisions over future relations with Russia have emerged among EU members.

Some EU ministers doubt the Russians would actually let anyone else into the areas they now control, he reports.

Russia's future relationship with Europe - with the Baltic states and Poland pushing for a freeze in relations - is now unclear, our correspondent says.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband argued the international community must act to show that the use of force is not acceptable.

Others like Germany and Italy are more cautious, saying communication channels must remain open.

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