Russia's Foreign Minister says EU observers playing a "dangerous game" in Georgia

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday accused the EU mission in Georgia of ignoring escalating violence in buffer zones set outside the rebel regions under a ceasefire accord, reported dpa.

"We are concerned by the careless attitude toward what is happening in these zones. This is a dangerous game, they are playing with fire," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.

Officials in Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia accused EU monitors this week of remaining silent while Georgian troops breached the ceasefire deal and fired at border villages near the capital of Tskhinvali.

Police in South Ossetia have been given permissed to return fire if attacked, Russian newspapers reported this week, in a sign of spiraling tensions in the region.

In the border town of Gali in Georgia's other separatist region of Abkhazia on Thursday, news agency Interfax reported that the body of an Abkhaz defence ministry official was found dead with a bullet in his head.

"This last terrorist attack by Georgians shows that EU observers do not want or are not capable of stopping such attacks," the leader of the rebel region Sergei Bagapsh was quoted by the agency as saying.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the EU's rotating presidency, brokered the deal setting some 300 unarmed EU observers in the area to end the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August.

EU monitors have replaced Russian troops in areas surrounding Georgia's two separatist regions to facilitate a pull out of Russian forces occupying Georgia proper after the conflict.

"We won't forget that the European Union is a guaranteer of the non-use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Lavrov said at a meeting with the Foreign Minister of EU member state Latvia in Moscow.

Without an immediate demilitarization of the buffer zones by international observers, "serious clashes could begin," he warned.

But some Western diplomats charge that Russia has subverted the ceasefire agreement by refusing to allow EU-monitors into the separatist regions and by declaring it will base 3,700 troops in each of the provinces, which it has recognized independent states.

The unarmed EU observer mission has been in effect reduced to enforcing the border between Georgia and the Russian-backed regions, analysts note.

Moscow signed partnership accords with the leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia shortly after recognizing the regions, who have held de facto independence since winning wars of succession from Tbilisi in the early 1990s. 

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