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Europe

EU to Put Final Touches on Observer Mission in Georgia

EU plans to replace Russian troops in Georgia are set to top the agenda on Monday as the bloc's foreign ministers meet in Brussels. Russia's continued presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains controversial.

Montage of russian and eu flags

The conflict in Georgia has strained the relations between Russia and the EU

The foreign ministers of the EU's 27 member states are expected to launch a mission of at least 200 civilian observers to Georgia in return for a Russian military withdrawal.

That follows an agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- current holder of the EU's rotating presidency -- under which the observers are to deploy by Oct. 1 and Russia is to withdraw its troops from Georgia proper by 10 days later.

Officials in Brussels say that 11 member states -- the Baltic states, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden -- have already offered to send personnel and equipment.

But debate remains over the precise wording of the mission's mandate, with some member states pushing for a specific mention of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- now occupied by Russia -- which says they are independent, and others saying the wording should be more ambiguous, to avoid antagonizing Moscow.

Trade deal with Serbia

Radovan Karadzic in the courtroom during his initial appearance at the Hague tribunal

Radovan Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade and handed over to the Hague tribunal

At the same meeting, the ministers are expected to debate whether they should implement a trade deal with Serbia following Belgrade's arrest of war-crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic in July.

The Netherlands say they will not approve the implementation of the deal until the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Serge Brammertz, confirms that Belgrade is fully cooperating with his organization.

Brammertz is expected to attend the meeting.

Debate also remains over whether the EU should reward Belarus for its decision over the summer to release political prisoners.

Some member states say that the EU should send Minsk a "strong message" ahead of elections on Sept. 28 by lifting sanctions against the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Others say this should be done after the election -- making it likely that ministers will content themselves with issuing an encouraging statement.

Sanctions against Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe shakes the hands of Morgan Tsvangirai

Mugabe, left, and Tsvangirai reached a last-minute power-sharing deal

Turning from incentives to sanctions, EU officials on Thursday agreed that the ministers should broaden their current sanctions against Zimbabwe in light of the summer's political violence.

But the news overnight that President Robert Mugabe and his challenger Morgan Tsvangirai had reached a power-sharing deal led officials to say on Friday that those sanctions could now be delayed.

Ministers are expected to approve a letter officially calling for crisis talks with the military junta which seized power in Mauritania on Aug. 6.

Under Article 96 of the so-called Cotonou Agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific states, the EU could cut off aid to the government if talks are rejected.

Finally, the ministers are expected to offer the EU's support to naval operations against piracy in Somalia. However, the bloc is not expected to launch any mission of its own.

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