EU official in Georgia: Russia violates peace deal

AP News
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Posted: Dec 23, 2009 11:04 AM

Russia has failed to fully observe an EU-brokered peace deal that ended last year's war with Georgia, the EU monitoring mission chief says.

Hansjoerg Haber said Russia has not met an obligation to withdraw its forces to positions held before the August 2008 conflict. "This is our main problem," Haber told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Russia also has refused to let EU monitors enter Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said. Moscow has recognized the regions as independent states and kept thousands of troops there.

Russian officials have dismissed such statements by EU officials, saying that Moscow wasn't obliged to make the moves according to its interpretation of the deal.

Only Venezuela, Nicaragua and, most recently, the South Pacific island nation of Nauru, has followed Russia's example in recognizing the breakaway regions as independent states.

The EU sent 200 monitors to patrol areas near Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where tensions have persisted with periodic arrests and claims and counterclaims of illegal activity.

On Wednesday, a group of EU monitors visited the village of Zegduleti in the Gori region near South Ossetia.

Regional administrator Georgy Shiukashvili told the monitors that two local residents had been briefly detained by South Ossetian separatists this year. The number marks a significant decrease compared to the fall of 2008, when such detentions were a regular occurrence.

"A person would go to his orchard to gather apples, and they would round him up and accuse of illegal border crossing," he recalled.

Shiukashvili said the region has been struggling economically after the war, which deprived residents of Zegduleti and other neighboring villages of the opportunity to sell apples and other fruit to neighboring Russia. He said that the villagers also have suffered a shortage of fresh water, which had been delivered from South Ossetia before the war.

EU observer Thomas Wibbert said gathering data on local economy and population help monitors assess the situation.

Local villagers welcome the EU patrols. "When I see EU monitors, I feel relieved," said Malkhaz Tservadze, a 61-year old resident of Zegduleti. "They are on a peaceful mission to ensure our safety."