Georgia urges UN response to fighting in South Ossetia

Georgia asked the UN Security Council Friday to issue a formal call for a ceasefire in South Ossetia after it accused Russia of invading its territory with troops backed by airstrikes, dpa reported.

Georgia's Ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasania called for an immediate pullout of Russian military personnel and negotiations for a ceasefire, during an emergency session of the 15- nation Security Council in New York.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad backed Alasania's demand, but the council ended a public meeting without issuing such a call, even though Security Council members individually called for a resolution. Any formal statement by the council under such circumstances must be approved by all council members, which became unlikely because of Russia's veto power.

Khalilzad told the council that Russian troops had entered the territory of Georgia, a former Soviet republic with a tense relationship with Russia. Khalilzad called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and talks to end the hostilities.

"The United States is profoundly disturbed by this development, and we call on Russia to cease all attacks and respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Khalilzad said.

"My government supports a ceasefire under international mediation, and we seek Russia's support for the ceasefire."

He called for restraint on both sides of the conflict.

Alasania accused Russia of mounting a "premeditated" attack on Georgian territory, with aerial bombings and land invasion that inflicted civilian casualties.

" Russia launched a blunt and open invasion of Georgia and has challenged the international community and its established democracy," Alasania said.

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who has sparred verbally with Alasania at UN headquarters in New York in the past over the breakaway Abkhazia province, rejected the Georgian's accusations.

During his speech to the council, Churkin accused the Georgian government of "ethnic cleansing," a reference to the situation in Abkhazia, where Russians had been ill treated. Abkhazia, like South Ossetia, is inhabited by Russians, and both regions have demanded autonomous status from Tbilisi, which has rejected such a move.

Churkin failed to call for a ceasefire in South Ossetia in his speech, whereas Alasania demanded an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and proposed negotiations for a ceasefire. Churkin called Alasania's demands "slogans."

When Alasania's said he was surprised by Churkin's ethnic cleansing charge, Churkin asked, "How else can you describe the (Georgian) actions?"

Alasania denied Georgian troops had targeted Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia. A dozen Russian peacekeepers were reportedly slain in Friday's fighting.

The fighting in Southern Ossetia, a breakaway enclave of Georgia, erupted on the same day that the Summer Olympic Games opened in Beijing, despite a call from the United Nations for warring parties to respect the Olympic truce and to cease all hostilities worldwide during the games.

The Olympic truce is launched during every Olympics, but this was the first time that a new conflict broke out on the opening day of the Summer Games.

Alasania told the Security Council that the attack began early Friday with waves of Russian airstrikes involving SU bombers and SU25 jet fighters, which bombed targets inside Georgia including villages and military installations.

He charged that Russia had illegally brought military equipment into Georgia, never specifying whether it was in South Ossetia or Georgia proper. Alasania pointed to a map with red and blue marks showing sites hit by Russian military craft and areas he alleged Russia had entered in the Georgian territory.

He called for the immediate pullout of Russian military personnel, before the start of negotiations for a ceasefire with the mediation of international organizations.

Friday's emergency session was requested by Alasania, whose country has accused Russia of backing separatist forces in South Ossetia and Abkhasia, and threatened Georgia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the latest fighting and urged warring parties to refrain from actions that could endanger stability in their region.

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