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Europe

UN Security Council Remains Deadlocked Over South Ossetia

The UN Security Council failed again to agree on a statement regarding the breakaway South Ossetia enclave where fighting between Russia and Georgia continued. Fighting has spread to the separatist province Abkhazia.

A column of Russian troops is on the march to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia

Russia's military actions against Georgia could affect ties between the EU and Moscow

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters following a closed-door session of the Security Council on Saturday, Aug. 9, that Moscow has political and humanitarian reasons to remain in South Ossetia.

"Russia will not pull out," Churkin said. "In order for us to withdraw we have to make sure there won't be genocide there. This is a grave matter."


Churkin claimed fighting since Thursday has killed some 2,000 civilians and made more than 30,000 refugees, many of whom had fled into Russia.

Russia, a veto power on the 15-nation council, called for the closed-door meeting a day after the body held an open debate to hear views from Russian and Georgian representatives as well as those of council members.

"We have come to the conclusion that it will be very difficult if not impossible to find common ground on a statement," Belgian ambassador Jan Grauls told reporters.

Russia: Elements of "genocide"

Georgia's UN Ambasador Irakli Alasania urged the council in Friday's meeting to use its authority to end the fighting, saying his country was ready to negotiate a ceasefire if Russia would immediately withdraw its troops from Georgian territory.

Churkin rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it would not be the right solution while fighting was raging. He called instead for Georgian troops to withdraw from South Ossetia, saying the capital Tskhinvali has been destroyed by Georgian rocket fire.

Alasania accused Russia of mounting a "full-scale military invasion" of Georgia with tanks and combat troops, backed by airstrikes.

Moscow had accused Georgia of violating an agreement that ended fighting in South Ossetia in 1996 by attacking the breakaway region. South Ossetia had declared independence from Tbilisi, which opposed it, in the early 1990s following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Churkin -- as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- said Russia viewed the Georgian offensive as "something that has elements of genocide and war crimes situation."

Putin earlier called for an investigation into alleged acts of genocide by Georgian forces

during their offensive against the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Georgia, a former Soviet republic, had been at odds with Moscow, charging it with interfering into its internal politics. Tbilisi has also been in conflict with Moscow over its province of Abkhazia, which has also demanded secession.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported this week that thousands of civilians fled South Ossetia for neighboring North Ossetia-Alania, in Russia, while hundreds of others have fled to other parts of Georgia.

Fighting spreads to Abkhazia

July photo of security officers of Abkhazia's President Sergei Bagapsh seen in Gali, a town in Abkhazia, breakaway Georgian region

South Ossetia is not the only Georgian province looking to break from Tbilisi

The council was convened to discuss the situation and was told by UN special envoy for Georgia, Robert Mullet, that fighting has spread to Abkhazia, which has demanded secession from Tbilisi. Abkhazia, like South Ossetia, is inhabited by a sizable population of Russians and Moscow has maintained a peacekeeping there.

Mullet told the council that Abkhazia was mobilizing troops and had asked the small unit of 15 UN peacekeepers to pull out of the disputed Upper Kodori Valley, which it did on Saturday. The UN troops have moved to Sukumi where it is safer.

A strike of 12 jets hit the Kodori Gorge, a disputed region in Georgia's west, Aleksander Lomaia, Georgia's national security chief told the DPA news agency. Alekasandr Bagapsh, the leader of Abkhazia, a separatist province to Georgia's east, claimed responsibility for the attack, and said Abkhazian ground forces were attacking in the region.

Bagapsh's announcement marked a dramatic widening of fighting in the region, as it opened a new front of combat to the west.

"There had been a marked escalation of military activities in South Ossetia and beyond and events on the ground had deteriorated in the past 24 hours," Belgium's Grauls said.

EU steps up the pressure

Russian soldiers sit atop an APC as a column of Russian troops moves towards Tskhinvali

Officials are concerned the situation in South Ossetia is worsening

European Union foreign ministers are to meet early next week to discuss the crisis in South Ossetia, with the possible option of calling an emergency summit of the 27-member bloc, officials said Saturday.

A statement released by the French EU presidency said French President Nicolas Sarkozy had set as priorities the immediate cessation of hostilities, the observation of the territorial integrity of Georgia and the withdrawal of Georgian and Russian troops.

Sarkozy, who had spoken with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the fringes of the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, was also to discuss the situation "in the coming hours" with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President George W Bush, the statement said.

Kouchner to travel to Georgia

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on arrival in Vladikavkaz

Russian Prime Minister Putin (left) flew to North Ossetia in Russia, on the border with Georgia

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will travel to Georgia on Sunday in a bid to halt the fighting in South Ossetia as part of his country's role heading the European Union presidency.

Kouchner will be accompanied by Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU presidency said in a statement on Paris on Saturday.

Delegations from the United States, European Union and OSCE were on the way to Tiblisi to discuss the fighting between Georgia and Russia.

France said "a continuation of the military action would have consequences on the relationship of the EU with Russia" and urged it to "observe the internationally recognized borders of Georgia." It welcomed Georgia's willingness for a ceasefire and said the EU "expects Russia would accept such a ceasefire immediately."

Strong condemnation

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to a patient during a visit to a military hospital in Gori

Georgian President Saakashvili (left) accused Russia of invading Georgia

Earlier on Saturday, the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia condemned the actions of Russian forces fighting in South Ossetia.

The declaration was "sharp, but the situation calls for it," Polish President Lech Kaczynski told journalists in Warsaw.

He described the Russian intervention as incompatible with international law and an "act of aggression."

"The Russian Federation has crossed the 'red line' with regard to maintaining peace and stability in the conflict zone and protecting Russian citizens outside its borders," the statement continued.

The leaders of the four countries said they would employ "all available methods" so that aggression against a small European country would not go without protest.

Calling on all NATO and EU members to "react accordingly" to the crisis, Kaczynski called for more than "insignificant statements."

Poland has been lobbying for Georgia's entry into NATO and the EU.

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