NATO accuses Russia of not honoring agreed cease-fire with Georgia

15:02, 20 August 2008
World
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Red Cross gains access to Georgia war zone

NATO and Russia remained at loggerheads over the crisis in Georgia Wednesday, as the Red Cross plans to send aid workers to South Ossetia for the first time, according to CNN.

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaking at the organization`s headquarters in Geneva, said it would send workers to Tskhinvali, capital of the disputed region of South Ossetia, as well as bolster its presence in badly affected areas of Georgia.

Both Russia and Georgia have accused each other of ethnic cleansing during the conflict, which has centered on the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The Red Cross announcement came after discussions between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kellenberger.

Kellenberger said that the priority in South Ossetia would be to "restore contact between family members who have been separated by the conflict and to obtain information about people who remain unaccounted for," as well as "visit all those captured or detained in connection with the conflict to assess their treatment and living conditions."

He added that in Georgia the organization had already brought in more that 430 tonnes of food and other relief supplies for up to 25,000 people during the past week.

The conflict began when Georgia launched a large-scale attack on South Ossetia on August 7 after a week of what it said were separatist attacks on Georgian villages bordering the enclave. The next day Russia sent hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles across the international border, driving into Georgia from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The civilian death toll from the conflict is unclear. Russia has said as many as 2,000 people were killed when Georgian forces cracked down on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, but Georgia said the death toll is in the hundreds.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates that nearly 160,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, from Georgia proper and South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia`s deputy chief of staff of armed forces, said Wednesday that 64 of its soldiers died during fighting with Georgia, with another 323 wounded.

Meanwhile NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Tuesday that Russian forces were still inside Georgia, despite a European Union-brokered cease-fire agreement to withdraw -- and despite Moscow saying it had begun pulling out Monday.

"We do not see signals of this happening," Scheffer said after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. "There can be no business as usual with Russia under the present circumstances."

A statement from the ministers said that NATO members "remain concerned by Russia`s actions," the statement said, calling Russian military action "disproportionate."

But Russia`s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said NATO`s accusations were "biased."

Lavrov said NATO was taking the side of Georgia, whose forces he said had failed to withdraw to their barracks.

"They blame us as if there were no requirements for the Georgian side in the six points" of the cease-fire agreement, he said. "I mean the requirements to bring back their troops to the places where they are on a permanent basis."

Speaking later in Tbilisi with British Foreign Secretary David Milliband, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called the NATO statement encouraging, saying Russians "are not and have never been after just small pieces of Georgian territory."

"They want to demoralize my people and put them into panic," Saakashvili said. "They want to not only get rid of the Georgian government but get rid of all idea of Georgia`s independence and freedom."

CNN

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