As the international community called for an end to violence in Georgian breakaway region South Ossetia, the EU is working to secure a ceasefire after Russian troops entered the region to repel a Georgian offensive.
Georgia gave civilians a few hours on Friday to leave the South Ossetian capital
The European Union as a body called on Friday for an immediate ceasefire and a return to peace talks in the Georgian separatist province of South Ossetia as fighting continued to rage in the area.
The EU "calls all parties to cease hostilities immediately and to resume talks without delay in order to permit a political solution to the crisis while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia," said a statement on behalf of the EU by the French government, which currently holds the bloc's presidency.
The EU "fully supports the efforts of the presidency-in-office of the OSCE (currently held by the Finnish government), including its mission on the ground, and demands that all parties cooperate with it," the statement added. "The EU is working with other actors to achieve a ceasefire in order to prevent an extension of the conflict."
Germany horrified by developments
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile called for an "immediate stop" to all violence in South Ossetia.
"Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for prudence and moderation from all sides of the conflict in South Ossetia and for an immediate stop to all use of violence," her government said in a statement.
Steinmeier visited the region just a few weeks ago
"The government is in close agreement with its partners in the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and NATO in this respect."
Germany heads a loose alliance known as the UN Group of Friends of the Secretary General which has been trying to cool tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi over Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian republic. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia in July to present a peace plan.
Foreign ministry officials said on Friday that Steinmeier had spoken by phone with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Speaking at Cologne airport on Friday, Steinmeier said that he was "horrified" by events in South Ossetia.
"While it's unclear at the moment who is responsible for this new outbreak of violence, it's equally clear what our position must be: There has to be an immediate end to fighting," he said, adding that the fighting could end up turning into a "concrete war."
EU extremely concerned
The European Union is concerned by recent developments in Gerogia
Meanwhile, the EU Commission's spokesman, John Clancy, said that EU officials were "extremely concerned" at the reports of heavy fighting in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
The EU "deplores the loss of life," Clancy said. "The European Commission calls for an immediate end to hostilities and for a swift resumption to negotiations in the framework of existing formats."
The 27-nation bloc "stands ready to increase its contribution to conflict resolution in Georgia with confidence-building measures," he added.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner was "in close contact" on the matter with both the French presidency of the EU and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chief, the EU Commission spokesman added.
Earlier a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also called for an end to the hostilities.
"We are very concerned by the dramatic escalation of the situation," Cristina Gallach said. "We are following it very closely and we are in contact with all the parties. We renew the appeal given Thursday by the head EU diplomat Javier Solana and call on all parties to end the violence immediately."
OSCE sends envoy
NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Friday said he was "seriously concerned" over the escalation and called "on all sides for an immediate end of the armed clashes."
At an emergency session of the United Nations late on Thursday, Russia failed to push through an agreement for an immediate halt to fighting from both sides.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will send a special envoy to Georgia immediately in a bid to kick start negotiations, Finland, the current OSCE chairman, announced on Friday.