Merkel calls for ceasefire in Georgia

Independent Online, South Africa
Aug 10 2008

Merkel calls for ceasefire in Georgia

August 10 2008 at 02:12PM

Berlin – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday called for an
"immediate and unconditional ceasefire" in Georgia, in a telephone
call with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a spokesperson said.

She also urged the withdrawal of all military forces "to their
positions before the outbreak of hostilities" and said Russian air
attacks on Georgian territory must be stopped "without delay".

Merkel spoke to Sarkozy – whose nation holds the rotating European
Union presidency – ahead of an emergency meeting of EU foreign
ministers in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the bloc’s response to
the conflict in the Caucasus.

"The chancellor expressed once again her great concern about the
further escalation of the situation in Georgia and the dramatic
consequences for the suffering civilian population," her deputy
spokesperson Thomas Steg said.

"She issued an urgent call for an immediate and unconditional
ceasefire."

Merkel said Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected and
expressed support for the efforts of the French EU presidency to end
the conflict with a political solution."

"The chancellor and President Sarkozy agreed to continue closely
coordinating on the issue," Steg said.

Georgia declared what it called a "state of war" on Saturday as Russia
bombed the former Soviet republic and their armies battled for control
of the separatist, pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia.

Germany was a vocal opponent of Georgia’s bid – championed by the
United States – to obtain candidate status for NATO membership at a
summit of the transatlantic alliance last April in Bucharest, in large
part due to Georgia’s unresolved conflict with Russia.

Germany heads a loose alliance known as the UN Group of Friends of the
Secretary-General which has been trying to cool tensions between
Moscow and Tbilisi over Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian republic.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Georgia,
Abkhazia and Russia in July to present a three-step peace plan, but
received a cool reception.

On Sunday, Steinmeier urged all sides to step back from the brink,
warning that the fighting could spread "like wildfire" throughout the
Caucasus, in an interview in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler accused Georgia on Saturday of
breaching a 1992 South Ossetia ceasefire agreement, monitored
essentially by Russian peacekeepers.

The foreign ministry on Sunday issued a travel warning for Georgia,
noting that there had been "bombing of strategic sites such as
railways, ports and military installations outside the conflict areas
proper".

It said on the ministry website that nationals currently in Georgia
may not be able to fly out as many flights have been cancelled. It
recommended taking the land route to Eriwan in Armenia for those now
in eastern Georgia.

Germans in this west of the country should travel to Sarpi on the
Turkish border, it said.

dlc/rom – AFP

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