EU foreign ministers meeting Wednesday debated sending international peacekeeping monitors to Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia to uphold an EU-brokered truce between Russia and Georgia.
EU nations say international peacekeepers in South Ossetia would be more credible
At an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, Aug 13, France led calls to send in international peacekeepers to Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia to replace Russian troops there.
"The idea of having monitors -- what you call peacekeeping troops, I wouldn't call them like that -- but European controllers, monitors, facilitators, yes, yes and yes. That is how Europe should be on the ground," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters in Brussels.
Sarkozy, left, with Saakashvili in Tbilisi
France, which currently chairs the EU's six-month rotating presidency, brokered a peace agreement in Moscow on Tuesday to end the fierce six-day conflict between Russia and Georgia in the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Kouchner accompanied French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his diplomatic mission to Moscow this week.
Under the terms of the agreement, Moscow is to withdraw most of its forces but leave a military presence in the two breakaway zones. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has also accepted Sarkozy's plan.
Despite the peace plan, Saakashvili said Russian troops were shooting at people and looting in the Georgian town of Gori early Wednesday, in apparent violation of the ceasefire.
Earlier, Saakasvili told CNN Russian troops were moving towards the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and trying to encircle the city. But that account was rejected later by Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze who said Russian troops were not headed to Tbilisi.
Germany says no time to apportion blame
A few EU countries welcomed the French proposal to dispatch international peacekeepers to the two separatist provinces.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier backed the monitoring idea and said the EU should avoid a blame game and focus on how it could play a constructive role to stabilize the Caucasus.
"We should not have a long discussion on how to respond to the escalation of the last days. The EU must decide which role it wants to play in the future," Steinmeier said.
The German foreign minister added the only way for the bloc to play a "real role" in the Caucasus would be to keep its channels with Moscow and Tbilisi open, rather than make "one-sided condemnations."
That view was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is reported to be visiting Tbilisi next week, her spokesman said on Wednesday.
"The chancellor is firmly convinced that this is not the time for looking into motives, for allocating blame, for denouncing anyone or for making final judgements," Thomas Steg told reporters in Berlin.
Steg said the German government welcomed the de facto ceasefire in South Ossetia and was making all efforts to ensure it held. Germany stood by the view that Georgia's territorial integrity should not be infringed, he added.
Georgian officials said Russian forces were still bombing the strategic town of Gori
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski was one of several EU ministers to say that "international forces would be more credible."
Italy has already said it is willing to contribute up to 1,000 soldiers to such a force.
"We need an international presence," said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
But differences also emerged over what consequences to draw from Russia's military offensive in Georgia.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU should decide next month "whether or not and how" to continue talks on closer ties with Moscow.
"The international community will want to ensure that the message goes out that force is not the right way to take forward these difficult issues," Miliband said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said there must be consequences for Russia's "unacceptable and disproportional" use of force.
With no concrete decisions expected on Wednesday, many ministers said the most immediate priority should be to ensure that the ceasefire holds and that humanitarian aid reaches the tens of thousands of people who have displaced by the conflict.
The extraordinary meeting was convened to discuss the latest conflict between Georgia -- an EU hopeful -- and Russia, which resents the West's growing influence on its borders.