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9 Sep, 2008 16:45

Russian withdrawal a step forward – Saakashvili

The Georgian President has given a cautious welcome to an agreement between Moscow and the EU which will see Russian forces withdrawn from Georgia and replaced by EU monitors. Speaking at a media briefing in Tbilisi with

However, the Georgian leader said any final settlement with Russia must respect Georgia's territorial integrity.

“We are at the very beginning of a major task. There is still a lot to be done. But the first thing is to implement the six-point plan. We must continue to implement the European solution respecting Georgian territorial integrity and principles of justice,” Mikhail Saakashvili said.

In response, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy again said the EU recognised the territorial integrity of Georgia and condemned Moscow for declaring these two regions independent.

Nicolas Sarkozy and top EU officials are in Tbilisi on the second leg of a diplomatic tour aimed at resolving the conflict between Georgia and Russia. Earlier, the EU delegation held four hours of talks with Russian ministers in Moscow.

The EU representatives have updated the Georgian president on the results of bilateral talks with Russia.

They have also sought assurances that Georgia will refrain from launching any further military attacks in the Caucasus.

After the Moscow talks, President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia would withdraw its troops from the security zones in Georgia proper as soon as 200 European peacekeepers arrive in the region. The deadline for this exchange was set for October 1st. 

Peter Semneby, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, said it will be a civilian unarmed mission.

“You won't see any uniforms. But they would certainly be persons with relevant expertise, both from the military and from police and law enforcement. All member states are able to contribute, there will also be the possibility for third parties to make a contribution to the mission,” he said.

President Saakashvili has welcomed the announcement, although he has reiterated that the Russian troops in Georgia are not peacekeepers, but ‘occupiers’, and that Georgia will never surrender any part of its territory.