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Monthly Archives: April 2008

Russia announces extra troops for Georgia regions

by Sebastian Smith*

Russia's defence ministry yesterday announced an increase in peacekeeping forces to two rebel Georgian regions in response to what it called aggressive moves by pro-Western Georgia.
"The development of events has created the need for an increase in the peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zones" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the ministry was quoted as saying by state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
Russia maintains a peacekeeping force in both areas under agreements with Georgia in the 1990s following wars in which separatists broke from Georgian control and established close ties with Moscow, which has encouraged residents there to take Russian citizenship.
The defence ministry, which accused Georgia of massing troops near the rebel areas, did not say how many extra soldiers were being sent. About 2,000 Russians serve in Abkhazia and about 1,000 in South Ossetia.
"Any attempt by the Georgian side to resolve the conflicts with force against Russian peacekeepers and also against Russian citizens… will be met with an adequate and tough answer," state news agencies quoted the ministry as saying.
Georgia, which accuses Moscow of attempting to annex the territories, swiftly rejected the Russian military's allegations and said the announced troop increase was inacceptable.
"This is not acceptable to us…. They cannot increase the number any further," Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
"It is the Russians who are taking provocative actions, not Georgia," he said. "Deploying additional troops is certainly a very provocative move."
"There has been no increase in forces from the Georgian side, nothing at all. The Russian statement is simply not true," Utiashvili said.
Moscow has close ties with the separatists, who control strategic passes through the huge Caucasus mountain chain, providing them with financial help and frequently inviting the rebel leaders to Moscow.
The row is at the heart of increasingly bitter relations between Moscow and Tbilisi and also part of Russia's broader offensive against growing Western influence in its former Soviet backyard.
Analysts see the rise of tensions in the Georgian separatist regions as helping Moscow to impede its neighbour's bid for membership in the NATO military alliance.
Moscow has also warned that Western recognition of independence for Serbian province Kosovo threatens a chain reaction of separatism — hinting that it could respond by recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Earlier this month Russia lifted a range of economic sanctions that had been in place for two years against Georgia, including the complete closure of land, air and sea links.
However, tensions have repeatedly flared since, including Georgia's accusation that a Russian aircraft shot down an unmanned surveillance drone deployed over Abkhazia.
Yesterday, Georgia's negotiator at talks on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) confirmed that Tbilisi was blocking Moscow's entry.
"Given the circumstances, this is our new position," deputy economy minister Tamara Kovziridze was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.


Palestinian militants discuss Israel truce in Cairo

by Nadra Saouli*

Palestinian militant groups were in Cairo yesterday for Egyptian-mediated talks on a possible truce with Israel that has already been approved by the Islamist Hamas.
The Palestinian factions travelled from Gaza, Damascus and Amman for two-days of talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is in charge of mediating Palestinian-Israeli talks.
Egypt has been serving as a go-between in truce negotiations as Israel refuses any direct contacts with organisations it considers terror groups.
"Meetings with Suleiman are set to begin at 6 pm (2300 Macau time)," Rabah Mohanna, from the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said.
Other factions include the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Popular Struggle Front (PSF) and Islamic Jihad, which fires most of Gaza's rockets at Israel.
The truce talks are taking place against a background of ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip where four children and their mother were killed in an explosion on Monday.
Palestinian witnesses blamed it on an Israeli missile, countering the Israeli army's statement that the blast was caused when explosives carried by Palestinian militants detonated during the air strike.
On the same day, Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza damaged an Israeli house.
Senior Hamas leader and former prime minister Ismail Haniya described the "massacre" as part of Israel's "constant attempts to destroy any regional or international effort to lift the siege and end the violence."
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said that "this aggression does not serve the efforts being exerted to bring about a period of calm and hinders the peace process."
Following the killings, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel "deeply regrets that civilians not involved (in the violence) are affected."
Hamas last week told the Egyptians it would be ready to accept a truce first in the Gaza Strip, to be followed six months later in the West Bank.
Israel has expressed doubts about Hamas's intentions but said it would consider a truce if Hamas stopped firing rockets at Israeli territory and attacking border positions.
Abbas was in Egypt on Sunday and gave his "unconditional" support to Egypt's efforts, asking the Palestinian ambassador to Cairo, Nabil Amr, to monitor the talks on behalf of his Fatah movement.
Hamas violently kicked out Fatah forces from the Gaza Strip in June.
"All Palestinian organisations are taking part in the talks, without exception," Amr said.
"We hope that our Egyptian brothers' determination will contribute to a common Palestinian position concerning the truce and thus put pressure on Israel to accept the truce and lift the blockade," Amr said.
Israel allows only limited basic supplies into the Gaza Strip in an embargo it says aims at forcing militants to halt their almost daily rocket fire against the Jewish state.