August 11, 2008

Georgian Leader Signs a Ceasefire But Russia Continues to Ramp Up Pressure

By Liam Creedon; Sam Marsden

GEORGIA'S president Mikhail Saakashvili said today he has signed a ceasefire agreement in the presence of French and Finnish foreign ministers acting as witnesses.

Earlier, Britain condemned Russian attacks deep into Georgian territory as "deplorable" amid fading hopes of an early end to the conflict.

The prospects of peace had also been cast in doubt today after Russia launched air strikes on the Georgian capital Tbilisi and its navy sank a Georgian boat in the Black Sea.

Meanwhile, Moscow accused Georgian forces of firing on Russian troops in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

Britain's Europe Minister Jim Murphy said Russia's military action was "deplorable".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The fact that Russia is now going even beyond Abkhazia and South Ossetia, bombing sites near to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the fact that Russia has mobilised at least part of the Black Sea fleet off the coast of Georgia is entirely deplorable Russian military behaviour. There cannot be a military solution to this, it is absolutely clear."

Diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the crisis were continuing today with a conference call between foreign ministers from the G7 countries - the G8 minus Russia.

This will be followed by an emergency meeting of all 27 EU countries in Brussels on Wednesday.

Mr Murphy said the aim was to maximise diplomatic pressure on Russia.

Downing Street has urged Russia and Georgia to agree to an "immediate" ceasefire and Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussed the situation with international heads of state over the weekend.

A senior Georgian diplomat insisted today that his country's forces had ceased fighting in South Ossetia.

Georgi Bardidze, Georgia's charge d'affaires in London, told Today: "We have stopped military action, which was actually conducted in response to the military aggression started first by the proxies and then evolved into direct military aggression against Georgia from Russia."

He said Russian forces were continuing hostilities despite the Georgian ceasefire.

The conflict began on Friday when Georgia launched a large-scale military operation to retake South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since 1992.

Russian troops moved into the province in response, leaving the region teetering on the brink of all-out war.

Thousands of civilians have fled the fighting and Moscow claims that 2,000 people - mostly Ossetians with Russian passports - have been killed.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office responded to the rapid escalation in violence by advising all Britons to leave Georgia if possible.

Russian fighter jets launched raids on Georgian territory today, striking a radar installation on the outskirts of Tbilisi, an airfield and the Black Sea port of Poti, Georgian officials said. Moscow said the attacks were aimed at supply lines and military facilities and not directed at civilians.

A Russian general issued an ultimatum ordering Georgian troops near Abkhazia, another breakaway province, to disarm or face Russian forces.

The pressure on Georgia was ramped up over the weekend after the Russian Navy reportedly deployed ships to blockade Georgia's Black Sea coast.

Then separatist authorities in Abkhazia declared military mobilisation, with the region's president Sergei Bagpash warning that his troops would drive Georgian forces from the area.

Russia has demanded that Georgia pull out its troops from South Ossetia as a condition to negotiate a ceasefire.

It also urged Georgia to sign a pledge not to use force against South Ossetia as another condition for ending hostilities.

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