EU monitors dispute cease-fire violations
Find little to back Russian claims about Georgia
BRUSSELS - Most Russian claims that Georgia is violating a cease-fire agreement in the breakaway region of South Ossetia appear to be unfounded, the head of the European monitoring mission there said yesterday.
Russia should provide more details if it has evidence that Georgia is breaching the deal, Hansjoerg Haber said.
A war erupted in August when Georgia launched an attack to regain control over South Ossetia. Russian forces swiftly repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia.
Russia withdrew its forces from parts of Georgia according to the terms of an EU-brokered cease-fire, and the European Union sent a more than 200-member mission to monitor the situation.
But Moscow has said that Georgian troops have failed to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist province, and have instigated shootings against Russian forces.
"In general, the observation is that such reports are overblown," Haber told reporters. "There may have been isolated shootings, but no major incidents have been registered."
If Russia and its allies in South Ossetia have evidence of Georgian wrongdoing, they should end their refusal to allow the EU monitors into the breakaway region so they can investigate, Haber said.
"We are pleased to come over to their side of the administrative boundary and inspect what has happened there," Haber said. "We invite them to invite us."
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the 225 EU monitors of turning a blind eye to Georgian troops' failure to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"We don't get any details from the Russians, we just get general allegations," Haber said.
Asked specifically about allegations that Georgian special forces were in areas near South Ossetia, Haber said some lightly armed units were there, but said their presence was "commensurate and adequate" for policing the region.
Georgia, meanwhile, accused Russian forces of destroying a bridge leading into Abkhazia in order to isolate ethnic Georgians living there. Russian troops demolished the bridge between Gali, in Abkhazia, and Zugdidi, in Georgia proper, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
The bridge was one of the last remaining border crossings into Abkhazia, Utiashvili said. Most of Gali's citizens are ethnic Georgians.
Russia's Defense Ministry had no immediate comment yesterday. But the defense minister for Abkhazia's de-facto government blamed the bombing on Georgia.
Russia, meanwhile, appointed ambassadors to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations after the war and plans to keep 3,800 troops in each region, a much bigger presence than before the war.
Georgia straddles a key westward route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region, and has become a focus of competition between Russia and the West for regional clout.