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Europe

EU Set to Approve Observer Mission to Georgia

The European Union is set to give the go-ahead to a team of ceasefire observers for Georgia at a formal meeting of foreign ministers on Sept. 15, the ministers meeting informally in the French town of Avignon said.

Russian soldier stands at a Russian checkpoint

The EU has called on Russia to pull its troops out of the buffer zones

The bloc should also consider calling for an international investigation to establish who is to blame for the recent war between Georgia and Russia, diplomats said Friday, Sept. 5, in Avignon.

"All the decisions will be taken on Sept. 15 that we go for full deployment of an European Security and Defence Policy mission in Georgia," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said at an informal meeting with EU counterparts.

"I would expect that to start deploying in numbers in the second half of September, up to a force of several hundred, I would estimate," he said.

Since the war between Russia and Georgia started in August, the EU has been pushing for an international presence to replace the current massive Russian military force in Georgia's breakaway provinces.

Russia opposes observers

But Russia's continued military presence not only in the provinces but in Georgia itself, and its refusal to let observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) back into the conflict zones, has put that goal out of reach so far.

On Monday, EU heads of state and government called on Russia to pull its troops back to pre-conflict lines. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to travel to Moscow this coming Monday as the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency to hold talks on the matter.

"I have been in touch with the authorities (in Russia) and with the Georgians. I think they understand what we want, what they have to do, and I hope very much that on Monday there will be a success," the EU's top foreign-policy official, Javier Solana, who is also set to join the mission, said.

"I do have information that the OSCE observers are called into the so-called buffer zones (within Georgia). So this is some opening there and I hope that will continue," he said.

Calls for inquiry into war

Georgian soldiers take up positions

EU ministers raised the question of guilt

Ahead of Friday's informal meeting, EU ministers said that the international community should investigate how the war started -- with some pointing to the role played by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose orders launched the Georgian attack on its breakaway regions on the night of August 7.

"If we are going to think about how our relationship should develop with the conflict partners ... it's important to find out who played what role in the escalation leading up to the armed conflict," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

"I think that President Saakashvili carries a responsibility ... The responsibility of those who started this conflict, also militarily, must be clearly established, and the responsibilities must be shown," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

Not all ministers met the idea with enthusiasm, however.

"I have from the beginning said that I am very careful in pointing the finger, I don't want to do that, but if it is felt necessary to look at how it all started, how it went on after that, then let's do it," Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said.

Extent of observer mission uncertain

Officially, ministers are due to discuss the Georgian conflict on Saturday, with officials as yet uncertain how far any mission would be able to deploy to the conflict zone.

"Our forces should be on the border (between Georgia and its breakaway regions), not somewhere which might be 15 kilometers inland," Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said.

But with the EU's leaders having threatened to postpone talks on a strategic treaty with Russia until it pulls out of Georgia, they are unlikely to take a soft line.

"They (the Russians) are not the ones to give people permission to people in the buffer zone. They have no rights either to give permission or not to give it," Bildt said.

"We will deploy our mission to Georgia without asking Russia for permission," he said.

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