War With Russia Is Near Warns Georgian President

TBILISI (Combined Sources)–During an interview with the French "Liberation" Daily–Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said war with Russia is close and it is necessary to prepare the people of Georgia for such an eventuality.

"We are very close to a war (with Russia)–the population must be prepared," he told the newspaper.

Denouncing military aid from Russia to rebels in Georgia’s break-away region of South Ossetia–Saakashvili stressed that he had "no intention of provoking it (a war)" and called for an international conference to discuss the status of South Ossetia.

"Russia’says it is opposed to this but I think its position is evolving," he said.

Georgia pulled troops back from the separatist pro-Moscow region last week after an unprecedented show of force that infuriated Russia and worried Washington.

"The forces which attacked the Georgian positions last week were without doubt Russian forces," said Saakashvili in the French newspaper article.

"The fundamental problem for Russia is that it has lost many territories in recent years. Many Russia’s feel their country has lost too much and that it now needs to resist losing any more territory," he added.

To avoid ethnic conflict–the Georgian president said he had proposed to the Ossetians "a very substantial autonomy and generous participation in Georgia’s central government."

Last Thursday–Tbilisi authorities said that 24 people had been killed and 50 others injured on the Georgian side in a week of fighting in the region.

European Union special representative to the South Caucasus countries Heikki Talvitie visited the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on August 24. He noted that there are "real chances" to initiate political dialogue between the conflicting sides.

He said that the tensions in the conflict zone were relatively eased after Georgia decided to unilaterally pull out all the non-peacekeeping troops from the region. "But it [the situation] is still full of danger," Talvitie added.

The EU envoy called on the South Ossetian side "to follow the example" of Georgia and demilitarize the conflict zone.

"We can not proceed very far if there is no political dialogue between Georgia and South Ossetia," Talvitie said. He added that the confidence building process between the sides "is not easy–but it is not impossible either."

Talvitie said he will continues to urge both sides to work for peace. He also has pledged the EU’s readiness to contribute to the economic revival of the conflict area.

Talvitie met yesterday in Tbilisi with Georgian officials and the Russian and US ambassadors.

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