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EU Hurries To Deploy Beefed-Up Georgia Mission

TBILISI (Reuters) -- A European Union mission to monitor the pullout of Russian forces from inside Georgia will comprise some 300 staff, up from a planned 200, and the bulk will arrive in the next two days, EU officials have said.

"It will most likely be a bigger number," an EU official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. "In order to have 200 in the field, we are looking at around 300 including support staff."

The EU is keen to deploy an effective monitoring mission as soon as possible to ensure Russia keeps its cease-fire commitments to pull out troops it sent deep into Georgian territory during a five-day war last month.

Deadlines are approaching: the European team is meant to be in place by October 1, and Russia is due to withdraw by October 10 from Georgian territory outside the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

After crushing Georgia in last month's war, Moscow defied the international community by recognizing both the pro-Russian provinces as independent states and pledging to protect them.

'Security Zones'

EU mission head Hansjoerg Haber told reporters in the Georgian capital Tbilisi: "The bulk of the staff will arrive this week -- tomorrow and the day after tomorrow."

"The core team is being completed," the German diplomat told reporters after meeting Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze. He said there would be "at least 200" observers.

Under a pullback deal brokered by France on behalf of the EU, Russian forces are due to withdraw from "security zones" inside Georgia adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow says it will keep 7,600 soldiers inside the rebel regions -- more than twice the number it had there before the war.

The EU mission's precise mandate remains unclear, after Russia disputed Georgian claims the observers would be given access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia says they can only operate in the buffer zones. Underscoring the fragility of the peace, a Georgian police officer was killed and two wounded in a shooting near the de facto Abkhaz border on September 21.

Another two Georgian police officers were wounded in an antitank-mine explosion in the same region on September 22.

The EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the increased staff number for the EU mission reflected "interest from member states to show commitment."

He denied it had anything to do with the failure last week of negotiations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to deploy an extra 80 international monitors.

The OSCE had agreed in principle last month to send 100 military observers. Twenty arrived, but negotiations over the deployment of the rest broke down last week in disagreement with Russia over their access to South Ossetia.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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