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EU Monitors Seek Access To South Ossetia In First Talks

A Russian soldier speaking with EU Monitoring Mission members earlier this month

A Russian soldier speaking with EU Monitoring Mission members earlier this month

TBILISI (Reuters) -- An EU mission monitoring a fragile cease-fire in Georgia discussed gaining access to South Ossetia at a breakthrough meeting with the rebel region's de facto authorities.

The meeting marked the first official contact since the EU mission deployed in early October to monitor a cease-fire deal brokered by France after a five-day war in August, when Russia repelled a Georgian bid to retake pro-Moscow South Ossetia.

A delegation of the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) held "technical talks" with South Ossetia's separatist interior minister, Mikhail Mindzayev, and Anatoly Tarasov, head of the Russian garrison in the breakaway capital, Tskhinvali.

A spokeswoman said the meeting took place on the de facto border between Georgia and South Ossetia.

It follows days of accusations from South Ossetia that the EU monitors are ignoring violence they blame on Georgian security forces that returned to the boundary this month with the pullback of Russian forces from a buffer zone.

Georgia denies initiating the violence, which also flared over the weekend near Georgia's second breakaway region of Abkhazia. Two Georgians were killed on October 25 in explosions near the de facto Abkhaz border.

The monitors have been denied access to both regions, where Russia says its own troops will provide security.

EU mission head Hansjoerg Haber said the mission "is willing and equipped to monitor the whole area, but can only fulfill its functions if granted access to the area," an EU statement said.

"He called on the Russians and South Ossetians to cooperate in this respect," it added.

It said monitors had asked for information on the structure of law enforcement mechanisms in South Ossetia and their cooperation with Russia. "The question of EUMM patrols entering South Ossetia was also discussed," the statement added.

Russia pulled back from a buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia this month, after sending in tanks and troops to repel a Georgian assault to retake the rebel region, which like Abkhazia threw off Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s.

The Kremlin recognized both regions as independent states after the war, ignoring objections from Western states which said Russia's military response was disproportionate.