Abkhazia: EU Monitors Deployed
An EU mission to monitor the ceasefire in Georgia is fully deployed and has met Russian forces to discuss their pullback from positions deep inside the Caucasus country, a senior EU official said on Monday [29 September 2008].
Under a pullback deal brokered by France after last month's Russia-Georgia war, Russian forces are due to withdraw from two 'security zones' adjacent to […] Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Oct. 10 .
The official, who asked not to be named as there is no official spokesperson for the mission, said more than 300 European Union staff -- civilian monitors and support -- were on the ground, and had begun deploying to field offices in western and central Georgia.
"They will be ready to begin the mission in the early hours of Oct 1 ," the official told Reuters. "At a technical level we met with the Russians over the weekend," he said.
Russia sent forces over its southern border in early August  to repel an offensive by ex-Soviet Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, to retake South Ossetia from pro-Moscow […][supporters].
Russia routed the Georgian army and pushed deep into undisputed Georgian territory, drawing condemnation from the West but no sanctions.
Under the pullback deal, the EU agreed to provide at least 200 observers to monitor the ceasefire.
The 56-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe also pledged to send 100 monitors after the conflict. Twenty have arrived, but deployment of the other 80 has been blocked by disagreement with Russia over their access to South Ossetia.
Russia insists the monitors will not be able to operate inside the rebel regions, which Moscow has since recognised as independent states. Russia plans to keep around 7,600 soldiers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Most of the EU monitors have a police or military background. They are unarmed, but will have light armoured vehicles for protection.
They are to be based in four field offices -- in the capital Tbilisi, in Gori just south of South Ossetia, in Zugdidi near the Abkhaz border and in the Black Sea port of Poti, from which Russian forces withdrew in early September .
A 'Rapid Reaction Force' will also be based in Tbilisi.
Georgia is anxious to see the forces pull back after an invasion that rocked investor confidence in the volatile region, hit growth forecasts and raised questions over the leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The 5-day war also deepened concern in the West over the security of the Caucasus as a transit route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to Western states bypassing Russia.
It sharpened divisions between Western powers over the wisdom of inviting Georgia to join NATO in the face of fierce Russian opposition.