Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Bush urges Moscow to halt bombings in Georgia

The conflict is putting Russia's relations with the West under fresh strain,

with US President George Bush urging Moscow to halt its bombings in Georgia.

Georgia's pro-West government also called for a ceasefire as two of its towns

were hit by Russian air strikes today.

But Russian President Dmitri Medvedev insisted Georgian troops must first

withdraw from South Ossetia.

The fighting erupted when Georgia launched a large-scale military operation to

retake South Ossetia, a breakaway province which has had de facto independence

since 1992.

Russia, which has strong ties with South Ossetian separatists, claimed about

1,500 civilians were killed in the offensive and deployed its own troops to the

area in response.

Moscow insists it is merely trying to keep the peace in South Ossetia but

Georgia has declared a state of war.

There has also been a build-up of troops around Abkhazia, another Georgian

province which has been seeking international recognition of its independence

since the early 1990s.

As the international community desperately tries to stave off a prolonged

conflagration which could impact on energy supplies, foreign ministers were

planning to hold an emergency meeting in Paris on Monday.

Britons were urged against all but essential travel to Georgia today as the

Foreign Office upgraded its advice.

It is also advising against any travel at all in South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted that efforts to secure a ceasefire had to

take precedence over the the political blame game.

``I don't think we should be at this stage looking to attribute blame,'' he

said.

``The fact of the matter is that this is an almost intractable situation which

has been in a state of many crises for some time.

``What we have to do is focus on an immediate ceasefire, apart from anything

else because the violence is having appalling consequences for innocent

civilians.''

Mr Browne signalled humanitarian assistance would be available, but warned

continued fighting would hold that up.

``You can't expect people to go into a situation in which conflict is currently

raging to do that,'' he told Sky News.

``But we are, as part of our discussions with our partners, looking at the way

in which we can support those communities that will find themselves with

effectively refugees, although they may well be internally displace, to look

after. ``So we will be at the forefront of that as we always are.''

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