EU calls on Russia to halt military activity on Georgian territory

Russia should immediately halt "all military activity on Georgian territory", the European Commission said Monday amid deep concern over a humanitarian crisis unfolding in the South Caucasus, dpa reported.

"We consider that the latest developments, such as the crossing of the Georgian borders by Russian troops, changed the dimension of the conflict," a spokeswoman for the European Union's executive said.

"We therefore call upon Russia to stop immediately all military activity on Georgian territory," she added.

Russian tanks and troops entered Georgia's separatist province of South Ossetia last week in response to growing violence in the region.

Russia now controls its capital Tskhinvali and has since launched airstrikes around Georgia's capital Tbilisi.

"We remain extremely concerned at the continuing violence and bloodshed in Georgia and repeat our calls for an immediate end of hostilities and a swift return to negotiations," the commission said ahead of an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels.

Ministers are expected to be briefed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is currently visiting the region on behalf of the French presidency of the EU, and will discuss calls from Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania for the EU to dispatch peacekeepers there.

The EU executive, which has sent three of its humanitarian experts to the region, supports all diplomatic efforts aimed at securing a peaceful solution to the crisis that fully respects "Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity", officials in Brussels said.

The commission has just released 1 million euros (1.5 million dollars) in fast-track humanitarian aid to help the civilian victims of the violence and is ready to provide a further 3 million euros, should the need arise.

EU officials quoted international relief agencies as saying about 30,000 people have already been displaced from Southern Ossetia to Northern Ossetia, a province of the Russian Federation.

A further 6,000 people have fled to Tbilisi, while Georgian diplomats say some 25,000 to 30,000 people have been internally displaced within Georgia as a result of Russian attacks.

"We are not just facing military action but a humanitarian crisis," warned Salome Samadashvili, Georgia's ambassador to the EU.

There are conflicting figures about the number of casualties caused by the latest crisis in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian province.

Russia and the de facto government of South Ossetia put the death toll at 1,500, while Georgian casualty figures ranged from 82 to 130, according to the details of Sunday's decision by the commission on its emergency aid package.

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) says between 10,000 and 20,000 people could flood into Georgia from South Ossetia, should the violence escalate further.

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