The European Union is ready to play a greater role in mediating the Georgian-Russian conflict and send observers to ensure that a ceasefire in the region is observed, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday, dpa reported.
Kouchner, who chaired an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, also suggested that the bloc could eventually deploy armed peacekeepers to the southern Caucasus, but stressed that such a mission would have to be endorsed by the United Nations.
"We are determined to act on the ground," said Kouchner, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
Javier Solana, the bloc's foreign-policy chief, said EU observers would assist the ongoing monitoring activities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
"First we must observe a ceasefire. Eventually, we may have to do something else. But that will require UN backing," he said.
The OSCE's current chairman, Alexander Stubb of Finland, announced at the meeting in Brussels that his organization planned to raise its observers from 200 to 300.
Italy has already indicated that it is willing to contribute up to 1,000 soldiers to a future European peacekeeping force, while a number of other EU member states have expressed a readiness to provide observers, law enforcing officers or soldiers.
Kouchner said the EU was working on a draft resolution to be submitted to the UN Security Council, the presidency of which is currently held by Belgium. Such a resolution would also have to be accepted by Russia, which enjoys vetoing powers.
At their meeting in Brussels, EU ministers agreed on a text calling for a "durable and peaceful" solution to the conflict involving Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Any deal would have to respect "the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Georgia, they stressed.
The reference to Georgia's territorial integrity was strongly welcomed by the country's foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, who held a number of bilateral meetings with her European colleagues while in Brussels on Wednesday.
The EU document also called on both Georgia and Russia to pull their troops back to the lines they had been occupying before the conflict broke out, and urged them to provide free access to humanitarian aid.
Tkeshelashvili expressed "disappointment" at the fact that the meeting's conclusions did not contain a clear condemnation of Russia's actions. But she acknowledged that such a move would have jeopardized the bloc's chances of casting itself as a mediator in the conflict.
The Georgian minister also accused Russia of violating the ceasefire announced by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday.
"We have information of looting ... (and of) widespread executions and persecutions on the ground," she said.
The minister said she had raised such concerns during a telephone call with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
"I have informed my colleague Sergey Lavrov of our well-founded concerns," she said, adding that the two sides were negotiating a safe passage for humanitarian aid to reach the affected regions.
Details of the EU's involvement in the southern Caucasus were to be discussed at an informal meeting of foreign ministers due to take place in Avignon, France on September 5-6.
Wednesday's emergency meeting in Brussels had been convened in the wake of the fierce fighting that erupted last week between Russia and Georgia in its Russian-dominated provinces, which are de facto independent but not internationally recognized.
While many Eastern European ministers pointed their fingers at the "disproportionate" use of force by the Russians, powerhouse Germany argued that this was no time to be playing the blame game.
"We should not have a long discussion on how to respond to the escalation" of recent days, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. "The EU must decide which role she wants to play in the future."
The German foreign minister said the only way for the EU to play a "real role" in the region would be to keep its channels with Moscow and Tbilisi open, rather than make "one-sided condemnations."
"If the EU wants to mediate (between Russia and Georgia) it has to remain objective and impartial," noted Cyprus' Markos Kyprianou, a former EU commissioner.
Ministers agreed that the most immediate priority should be to ensure that the latest ceasefire holds and that humanitarian aid reaches the tens of thousands of people who have displaced by the five-day conflict.