EU ready to deploy monitoring mission to Georgia by October- foreign policy chief

Georgia Materials 15 September 2008 13:03 (UTC +04:00)

The European Union is ready to replace Russian troops in Georgia with its own civilian observers within the next two weeks, Javier Solana, the bloc's foreign policy chief, said Monday, reported dpa.

But on the controversial issue of whether the planned 200-strong EU mission will also be deployed in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Solana said a decision would only be made at a later stage.

"The first commitment is to deploy the 200 observers before October 1. It will be done in time ... After that, we will see how the situation evolves," Solana said ahead of talks by EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Russia on Sunday completed the withdrawal of its troops from western Georgia, including the strategically important Black Sea port of Poti, in accordance with a deal agreed with the EU last week.

But Moscow insists that it will keep soldiers in what it calls a "buffer zone" around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia now treats as independent states following the August conflict with Georgia.

In Brussels, EU ministers were expected to discuss the precise wording of the EU mission's mandate, with some member states pushing for a specific reference to the breakaway regions and others arguing that the wording should be left ambiguous to avoid antagonizing Moscow.

"We are ready and disposed to go beyond the (EU's) commitments into other places, but we have to see how the situation evolves on the ground," Solana said Monday.

EU ministers were also expected to discuss a trade accord with Serbia and sanctions on Zimbabwe following the announcement of a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai of the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).