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West appeals to Russia for ceasefire

world Updated: Aug 11, 2008 23:40 IST

Western powers appealed to Russia on Monday for an immediate ceasefire in the Caucasus after Moscow pushed troops further into Georgia and Tbilisi shelled the Russian-held region of South Ossetia.

The US State Department said foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrial nations supported international mediation to end a crisis that risks engulfing the Caucasus, an important energy export route, in war.

They urged Russia to respect the territorial integrity of its former Soviet vassal. Moscow was in no mood to compromise.

“The foreign ministry has to state that the US Department of State is ill-informed. Georgia has not stopped attacks against civilian and Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia,” a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said in response.

Russia will not deal with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili who is now a war criminal, Moscow’s ambassador to NATO said. “Saakashvili is no longer a man that we can deal with,” Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Brussels.

Russian defence ministry officials said Georgia was heavily shelling South Ossetia — the province at the centre of the conflict — despite announcing a ceasefire. A Reuters witness saw Georgian helicopter gunships bombing targets in the area, sending dark smoke billowing into the air.

Escalating the conflict, Russian troops and armoured vehicles moved out of Abkhazia, a second breakaway territory to the west of Ossetia, into Georgia proper.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy prepared to fly to Georgia and Russia on Tuesday on a peace mission, following a round of shuttle diplomacy by his foreign minister Bernard Kouchner but it was unclear what his visit could bring.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he had agreed to a plan proposed by Kouchner under which hostilities would end, a mixed peacekeeping force would be deployed and troops would return to pre-conflict positions.

Russia and Georgia engaged in a bitter war of words on Monday about their conflict, trading numerous claims and counter-claims.

Saakashvili told reporters that Russia “wants to replace the government in Tbilisi” and claimed Moscow wanted to seize control of energy routes in the region. Russia said at a daily military briefing that it had lost four military aircraft and 18 soldiers since the fighting started, with another 14 missing in action and 52 wounded.