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Europe

Germany to Provide One-fifth of Georgia Observers, Merkel Says

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday Germany is ready to provide about 40 of the 200-odd EU observers to be deployed in Georgia under a new EU-brokered peace plan.

A Russian checkpoint near the Georgian city of Gori

An EU-brokered ceasefire between Russia and Georgia has run into trouble

"Germany will not shirk its responsibilities in the Caucasus conflict," Merkel's office said, summarizing remarks she made late Wednesday at an awards ceremony held by a publishing house.

"About one-fifth of the EU observers in Georgia are to come from Germany," the statement added.

Merkel said the exact division of labor between the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with their parallel observer missions in Georgia still had to be determined.

In talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Moscow on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committed to withdraw within a month all Russian troops from Georgia apart from those in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and to allow the deployment of the 200 EU observers.

Russia, however, will keep 3,800 troops in the two rebel enclaves.

Under the peace accord, the EU monitors will remain in the buffer zones between these troops and Georgia.

Peace plan in doubt?

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili speaks at his joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Mikhail Saakashvili (r) and Nicolas Sarkozy presenting the cease-fire plan

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of EU observers gaining access to South Ossetia or Abkhazia, AFP reported.

The move threw into doubt the new peace plan.

"Additional international observers will be deployed precisely around South Ossetia and Abkhazia and not inside these republics," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.

Sarkozy, speaking at the head of an EU delegation early Tuesday alongside Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, said: "The spirit of the text is that they (the EU observers) will have a mandate to enter (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), to observe, to report."

South Ossetian leader flip-flops over province joining Russia

President of the separatist Georgian province of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity

Eduard Kokoity has flip-flopped on South Ossetia's joining Russian Federation

South Ossetia's separatist leader early Thursday, Sept. 11, had said that his breakaway region intends to become part of Russia, Interfax news agency had reported.

"Of course we will become part of Russia....We're not intending to set up some independent Ossetia," Eduard Kokoity had been quoted as saying during a meeting of a Kremlin discussion group in the southern Russian city of Sochi.

However, Kokoity soon after denied reports South Ossetia hoped to join Russia, Interfax later reported.

"Obviously, I was misunderstood," he said less than an hour after he was quoted by news agencies as saying "without a doubt we will become part of Russia," news agency DPA reported.

Speaking later, Kokoity said: "We are not going to refuse the independence which has come to us through enormous sacrifice, and South Ossetia is not going to become part of Russia," DPA reported.

Interfax quoted Kokoity as saying that the region -- the site of last month's war between Russia and Georgia -- -- intends to unite with North Ossetia, across the border in Russia.

Russia has already recognized South Ossetia as an independent nation, along with Abkhazia.

Policeman killed

On Wednesday, Georgia reported one of its policemen was shot dead from a Russian position in violation of the fragile truce, as a major crack appeared in the EU-brokered ceasefire over the remit of EU observers.

The Georgians said it was the first fatal shooting since the August 12 ceasefire that brought an end to the five-day war between Georgia and Russia over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgia's interior ministry told AFP the officer died in hospital from wounds to the head and throat after being fired on near Karaleti, a key Russian position on the road from the Georgian city of Gori to South Ossetia.

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