Georgia Insists on Launching Talks over South Ossetia Status

TBILISI (Civil Georgia/AFP)–Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania–who met with the members of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC)–welcomed the ceasefire agreement reached with the South Ossetian side on August 17. He added–however–that no significant breakthrough is anticipated without launching talks over the political status of the breakaway region.

"Establishment of a long-lasting stability and peace in the region will be impossible without resolving the problem of South Ossetia’s status. We reiterate our readiness to launch talks over the status," Zurab Zhvania said at a news briefing after the talks with the JCC members.

The conflicting sides agreed during the talks in Tbilisi on a ceasefire–withdrawal of extra troops from the conflict zone–and securing free movement of people in the region.

Zhvania also said that the South Ossetian side expressed readiness to release those three Georgian soldiers–who were detained by the South Ossetian militias in early July.

The Prime Minister added that the Georgian side offered the South Ossetian and Russian sides to carry out joint operations against those armed groups–which according to the South Ossetia are out of Tskhinvali’s control.

"The South Ossetian side claims that there is a certain third force in the region–armed groups which do not obey Tskhinvali’s orders. Hence–we proposed to carry out a joint operation to wipe-out these groups–if there is any," Zhvania said.

Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili said on August 16 that Tbilisi is ready to pull out part of its troops from the South Ossetian conflict zone granting that the South Ossetian militias stop attacks on Georgian villages and troops stationed there.

"Granting that peace is preserved for three days–the Georgian side will pull out 30% of its troops deployed at the by-pass roads," Okruashvili told Rustavi 2 television on August 16. These roads link the Georgian controlled areas with the Georgian villages North of the capital Tskhinvali.

The Interior Minister said that this proposal has already been approved by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Meanwhile–Georgian government troops and forces from South Ossetia clashed overnight–killing a Georgian soldier and wounding three–officials said–as the most recent ceasefire failed to hold in the region. The crisis has prompted President Mikhail Saakashvili to call for international peacekeepers–to provide security for civilians and ensure that conditions for talks on a permanent settlement are met.

He is appealing for an international peacekeeping force to be sent to South Ossetia–specifically calling on the US–the European Union–and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to take an active role "in high level negotiations among the parties directly involved."

"An international peacekeeping operation that is balanced and takes into consideration Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic partners should be mandated in South Ossetia to provide security for the population and ensure the conditions for political negotiations towards a lasting settlement," Saakashvili said in an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Saakashvili claims that as a result of recent actions of his government to halt smuggling–"the de facto leadership in this lawless region saw their income threatened and have resorted to violence."

He said they seek to provoke a confrontation which they hoped will undermine Georgia’s credibility and standing in the international community–a confrontation in which Georgian soldiers have died.

The latest clashes have led to a telephone conversation between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sergei Lavrov of Russia–as US diplomats met with Russian and Georgian officials in an effort to cool tensions. The Moscow foreign ministry statement did not specify who made the call–but said it focused on South Ossetia. Repeated clashes have undermined the internationally brokered ceasefire signed late last week between Georgia–Russia–and South Ossetia and the OSCE–in an intense drive to defuse the crisis in the region.

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