Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Russia refuses to abide by ceasefire!

The recent violence has been the worst in the region since June 2004, shortly after President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia came to power vowing to reassert the country's control over South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia.

The regions are internationally unrecognized but gained de facto independence from Georgia after wars in the 1990s. The regions settled into a tenuous peace monitored by Russian peacekeepers.

Upon taking power, Saakashvili challenged Russian pre-eminence in the region by seeking NATO membership and stronger ties with the West. His government has accused Russia of training and supplying separatist forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia under the auspices of its peacekeeping mission — accusations Moscow has denied.

Tensions escalated when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February and was subsequently recognized by several Western countries. Russia, an ally of Serbia, had vowed to increase its support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia — a poor, mountainous territory between Georgia and Russia's southern border — in retaliation.

Russian Tanks 'Heading For Tbilisi'

A column of Russian tanks has been seen heading from the Georgian city of Gori towards the capital, Tbilisi, amid reports killing and looting is taking place.
A Sky News team has been robbed at gunpoint on the outskirts of Gori by men thought to be South Ossetian separatist militia.

Sky News presenter Andrew Wilson said he could not be sure the men who had pulled their car over were South Ossetian, but they did not seem to be Russian.

He said the attackers were "wired" and very aggressive, pressing a gun to the head of their driver, and did not respond when shown British passports and told their victims were journalists.

They took their car and equipment, forcing them to return to Gori on foot.

Sky News correspondents Stuart Ramsay and Jason Farrell confirmed there were tanks on the streets in Gori, which has suffered extensively from Russian bombing raids.

Ramsay said the town was "completely surrounded" and that locals were terrified of attacks by irregular separatist forces fighting alongside the Russians.

Farrell said he had seen them patrolling the streets and that a team of Norwegian journalists had been robbed in the centre of the town.

He added that people were fleeing the area and there were reports of fighting which he could not confirm, although he could see smoke rising in the distance.

"(The tanks) just rolled past us with their guns at the ready, definitely looking like they were ready to engage," he said.

"It's the same scenes as we were seeing at the beginning of the conflict. As far as the people here are concerned, the politicians may be talking about peace but there's really no sign of it here."

Earlier, the leaders of Russia and Georgia formally agreed to stop fighting - but each side accused the other of war crimes.

Anatoly Nagovitsyn, the Russian military's deputy chief of staff, categorically denied that there were any tanks on the streets of Gori.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Georgia had been sufficiently punished for sending its forces into the separatist South Ossetia region, leading to five days of air and ground attacks in response.

The Georgian government says Russian forces are burning the Georgian villages of of Tamarasheni, Tkviavi, Karaleti, Bebuti and Variani in South Ossetia.

It also reported that Russian forces had taken 25 Georgians hostage in the rebel Georgian province.

Its representatives have filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague accusing Russia of ethnic cleansing in Georgia between 1993 and 2008.

Russia, meanwhile, has accused Georgia of "genocide" and said it had used foreign mercenaries during the battles over the breakaway province.

"Georgian authorities ordered war crimes," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"We will conduct investigations and make sure justice is implemented."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russia's aim all along was not to gain control of two disputed provinces but to "destroy" the smaller nation, a former Soviet state and current US ally.

The presidents of the neighbouring nations agreed to a modified version of an EU peace deal brokered by Mr Sarkozy during a day of negotiations in Moscow and Tbilisi.

The six-point agreement calls for both sides to move back to their positions before fighting erupted.

Meanwhile, the US has showed its disapproval of the Russian action by cancelling a joint naval exercise in the Pacific Ocean.

"There is no way in good conscience that we could proceed with a joint naval exercise given the state of this crisis," a senior US defense official said.

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