Unarmed European Union (EU) ceasefire monitors will stay in Georgia until at least September 2010 in a bid to keep the peace between the country, its breakaway regions and Russia, EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday.
The 27-member bloc "has decided to extend the mandate of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) for another 12 months until Sep 14, 2010," read a joint statement approved at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
The mission was deployed in October 2008 in a bid to protect the EU-brokered ceasefire between Georgia, the separatist Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russia, after their August 2008 war.
"The mission's presence on the ground remains a key stabilising factor," said the statement.
It is the only group left to monitor the ceasefire, after Russia vetoed the extension of separate missions by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The EU "noted with deep regret and concern that agreement has not been reached on the future of the UN and OSCE monitoring missions in Georgia. This development further underscores the crucial role of EUMM Georgia", the statement said.
But while the mission is mandated by the EU to operate throughout the war zone, Russia has refused to let observers into the separatist areas until the bloc also recognises their independence.
The EU has flatly refused to consider such a trade-off and insists that the two zones are part of Georgia.
The statement pointed out that the EU's mission is mandated to cover the whole of Georgian territory, as defined by the EU and all other countries except Russia and Nicaragua, and called for "unhindered access of EUMM to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which has so far been denied".