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Georgia Orders Cease-Fire As Fighting Continues

  • RFE/RL

A Russian rocket launcher in the South Ossetian village of Java on August 10

The Georgian Foreign Ministry says it has ordered its military in the breakaway region of South Ossetia to cease-fire and offered immediate talks with Russia to end hostilities.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had ordered the cease-fire and his message had been sent to Russian officials, expressing a "readiness to immediately start negotiations" on ending the conflict.

But Georgian parliament speaker David Bakradze said earlier on August 10 that Russian forces are planning an attack on the Georgian city of Zugdidi in "the next few hours." And Russian reports indicate that fighting continues in South Ossetia.

Zugdidi is located in western Georgia on the border with the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Geronti Kalichava, RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent in Zugdidi, says residents have begun to leave the city.

"There is panic in Zugdidi -- people are leaving their houses and are moving towards nearby mountainous villages," he said. "Earlier I spoke with Zugdidi residents in the center of the town, and they told me that around 500 Russian armored vehicles are stationed near the Enguri Bridge, at the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia proper. It is no longer possible to say what is happening in Zugdidi right now, as we are going towards villages and are moving farther away from the town. No one is staying there. The grocery market was closed in the morning...Zugdidi's center is not functioning, everything is closed."

Meanwhile, the leader of Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia, has reportedly decreed a 10-day "state of war."

Citing a decree by Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, Russian news agencies say the "state of war" has been introduced in several territories close to Abkhazia's de facto border with Georgia. The decree goes into effect at midnight local time.

Earlier in the day, Bagapsh announced the full mobilization of his forces and said he is sending 1,000 troops to the Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia that is controlled by Georgia.

The Georgian government said 4,000 Russian troops have arrived in Abkhazia, and that Moscow is preparing "new aggression" in the region. Russia's armed forces denied such plans.

Georgia said earlier that its troops have pulled out of most parts of South Ossetia, where they have been fighting Russian troops for control of the breakaway region.

News agencies quoted Georgian National Security Council Secretary Aleksandre Lomania as saying, "we have left practically all of South Ossetia as an expression of goodwill and our willingness to stop military confrontation."

However, Russian military commanders in South Ossetia say Georgian forces, artillery, and armor remain in South Ossetia.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on August 10 that most of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, is controlled by Russian forces.

Fierce battles broke out in Tskhinvali on August 8 when Georgian troops launched an offensive to regain control over South Ossetia after claims that Ossetian forces had fired on Georgian positions. Russia responded by sending in tanks and troops from North Ossetia and bombing cities on Georgian territory.

The Russian military has denied reports that Russia is deploying warships on Georgia's Black Sea ports to impose a naval blockade against Georgia.

Russian troops reportedly again bombed a military airfield outside Tbilisi earlier.

There are widely conflicting reports on casualties from the conflict. Russian and South Ossetian sources say at least 2,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed during the conflict, though there are no independent sources to verify those claims. Georgian Health Minister Alexander Kvitashvili said that 92 people had been confirmed killed thus far.

Both sides confirm that most of the casualties are civilians. Georgia accused Russia of bombing civilian apartment blocks in at least two Georgian cities, Poti and Gori, causing hundreds of casualties.

Speaking at UN headquarters in New York on August 9, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said Russian troops did not deliberately target civilians.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who visited North Ossetia on August 9, placed the blame on Georgia. In a Kremlin meeting on August 10 with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin said there are "elements of genocide against Ossetian people."

"People are in a difficult situation, especially women, old people, children," Putin said. "They have seen a lot of tragedy there. I would like to draw your attention to the following -- according to their impressions, all this is beyond the understanding of what military actions are and, in my opinion, these are elements of genocide against Ossetian people."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for humanitarian access and safe passage for civilians trapped in conflict areas. Russia and Georgia have reportedly agreed to open humanitarian corridors to enable people to leave South Ossetia. Several thousand have reportedly fled from South Ossetia into Georgia, while Russia says some 30,000 have fled to Russia.

Georgian President Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to destroy Georgia's democracy, while Putin said Georgia is seeking "bloody adventures." Speaking in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz, Putin referred to Tbilisi's desire to join NATO, a move strongly opposed by Moscow.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report
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Destruction In Gori

Photos by RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent of a town under attack