Fragile truce holds in Georgia after both sides agree peace deal

Posted on 1:45 AM by Sameer Shah

A ceasefire between Russia and Georgia appeared to be holding today as Western governments turned up the diplomatic pressure on Moscow.

The apparent halt to the violence came hours after a peace plan brokered by French president Nicolas Sarkozy was agreed by Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili.

Despite the seeming calm - which followed reports of sporadic fighting - there were fears that the truce could prove fragile with deep suspicion remaining between the two countries and armed men continuing to roam the streets of South Ossetia, the separatist region of Georgia which sparked the conflict.

The head of Georgia's national security council claimed today that 50 Russian tanks had entered the strategic city of Gori, which lies close to the border with South Ossetia. There were no immediate further details but previous reports from Gori have proved unreliable.

About 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which is thought to have claimed thousands of lives and left hundreds more injured.

A Georgian military vehicle outside Gori. Around 100,000 people are thought to have been displaced by the fighting

As Mr Sarkozy prepared to present the peace deal to EU ministers today in a bid to pave the way for its formal adoption by the United Nations Security Council, Western governments began retaliatory action against Moscow.

The US cancelled a joint naval exercise with Russia which was due to take place later this week, saying that there was "no way" that it could cooperate so closely with Moscow in the wake of the Russian aggression against Georgia.

EU diplomats were also expected to consider a range of symbolic gestures designed to express their disapproval of Moscow's actions at a meeting today, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia's conduct in Georgia had jeopardised its chances of integration into international institutions.

"There are any number of opportunities for Russia to reverse course and to demonstrate that it is trying to behave according to 21st century principles," she said.

"But I can assure you that Russia's international reputation and what role Russia can play in the international community is very much at stake here."

Georgians during a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, as Moscow officials called for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to stand down

Earlier Mr Medvedev, speaking after Russia's military might crushed its neighbour's forces, said: 'The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganised.'

But he ordered his commanders: 'If there are any emerging hotbeds of resistance or any aggressive actions, you should take steps to destroy them.'

His words came shortly before details emerged of the potential peace settlement.

But the fragility of the ceasefire was underlined by evidence that Russian troops had continued attacks on the Georgian town of Gori. Georgian officials said at least a dozen people were killed.

The fighting began last Friday when Georgia invaded its breakaway province of South Ossetia. Russian forces responded by driving the Georgians out of South Ossetia, then striking into Georgia itself.

Mr Medvedev insisted yesterday that the residents of both South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway province, Abkhazia, must be allowed to decide whether they want to be part of Russia.
But the Kremlin also made it plain that pro-Western Saakashvili must go if there is to be long-term peace.

Mr Medvedev said he had acted as a 'lunatic' during the five days' fighting. He said: 'You know, lunatics' difference from other people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them. So you have to use surgery.'

Nato said Russia's announcement of an end to military operations was 'not enough' and deplored the 'disproportionate' force used by Moscow. Prime Minister Gordon Brown also called for a lasting ceasefire.

Tory leader David Cameron likened Russia to Nazi Germany before the Second World War. He said the justification of military aggression in South Ossetia - defence of Russian citizens - bore dark comparisons with Hitler's argument for laying claim to the Sudetenland because 3.5million Germans lived there.

Despite the announcement of a halt to hostilities, BP shut down an oil pipeline that runs through the centre of Georgia as a precautionary measure.

It said the pipeline, carrying 90,000 barrels a day from Baku in Azerbaijan to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, will remain closed indefinitely.

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