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    First EU monitors enter Georgian buffer zone

    Reuters
    01.10.2008 - 11:47 | Son Güncelleme:

    The first patrols of EU ceasefire monitors entered a buffer zone around Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region on Wednesday but it was not clear if delays over access for the whole EU force were resolved.

    Russia and European Union officials had earlier said they were still no agreement on full access for the monitors -- deployed as part of a ceasefire deal after a brief war in August. The deal also required Russia to pull back its troops.

     

    A Reuters reporter travelling with one EU patrol said Russian soldiers stopped the vehicles at a checkpoint on the edge of the Russian-declared buffer zone, and then waved them through after about 10 minutes of discussions.

     

    "We're in the buffer zone," one of the EU monitors told the Reuters reporter in the village of Nabakhtevi, near the Georgian town of Gori.

     

    Questions remained over when the monitors would have full access to the buffer zone.

     

    Russia, which sent in its forces to crush a Georgian attempt to retake South Ossetia, has already said the monitors will not be allowed inside the breakaway region.

     

    "We have received assurances from the Russian side at the political level that we will be able to make these patrols (in the buffer zones)," the EU mission's civilian chief Hansjoerg Haber said at the start of patrols on Wednesday morning.

     

    "At the military level, this is understood differently," he said.

     

    The Russian military had said they still have concerns about the safety of monitors, he said.

    CEASEFIRE DEAL
    Under the terms of the ceasefire deal, Russian troops which have been in buffer zones adjacent to South Ossetia and the second breakaway region of Abkhazia since the war are to pull back within 10 days of the deployment of the EU monitors.

     

    An eyewitness told Reuters a second EU patrol, of two vehicles, had crossed into the buffer zone at the village of Karaleti.

     

    The village lies on the main highway leading into South Ossetia from the south, and is part of a sector where human rights groups say marauding paramilitaries have been looting and attacking ethnic Georgian villages since the war.

     

    The Russian military had said on Tuesday the unarmed civilian monitors would only go as far as the edge of the buffer zones adjacent to South Ossetia, though it said Russia was not blocking access.

     

    The EU mission said it hopes to coordinate a "step-by-step" withdrawal of Russian forces and simultaneous return of Georgian police to the buffer zones to avoid a security vacuum that could be exploited by roaming militias.

     

    Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake Moscow-backed South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in 1991-92. Russia responded with a powerful counter-strike that drove the Georgian army out of South Ossetia.

     

    Moscow's troops then pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks. The West has condemned Russia for a "disproportionate response" to Georgia's actions and has repeatedly demanded that Moscow pull its troops out of undisputed Georgian territory.

     

    Georgia's government said on Tuesday Russia was trying to stall the deployment of EU monitors to delay the pullback of Russian troops. It demanded Russian forces leave undisputed Georgian territory no later than Oct. 10.

     

    Russia says there is no need for the EU monitors to operate in South Ossetia or Abkhazia, which it recognized as independent states after the war, because it says its troops are already guaranteeing security there.

     

    Photo: Reuters

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