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European Leaders Concerned About Georgia-Russia Conflict


European leaders have expressed concern as fighting escalated between Russia and Georgia over Southern Ossetia, and dispatched high-level diplomats to help broker a cease-fire. Pope Benedict XVI also called for an immediate end to the hostilities. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Sunday described the hostilities in South Ossetia as "massacres." He said the European Union, which France currently heads, could not allow such a terribly devastating and unacceptable war.

"We cannot, as the European Union presidency, we cannot accept at our doors, just very close to Europe, to accept such a middle age [medieval] battle. Impossible," said Bernard Kouchner.

Kouchner was speaking just before heading to Tbilisi with his Finnish counterpart Alexander Stubb for a meeting with the Georgian president. They were scheduled to travel on from Tbilisi to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Stubb is traveling in his capacity as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 56-nation security organization that has both Russia and Georgia as members.

Kouchner said he would call on both countries to bring the fighting to an immediate stop in the breakaway province. The European Union, whose six-month rotating presidency is currently held by France, is expected to offer to help provide humanitarian aid to victims.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with the Georgian president and other European leaders about the escalation of the conflict. He has proposed a plan, which calls for the return of Russian and Georgian troops to their former positions and requires Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity to be respected.

The NATO secretary general declared that Russia violated Georgia's territorial integrity in South Ossetia.

In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres also expressed concern over the plight of thousands of civilians caught up in fighting in and around South Ossetia. He has called on all sides to avoid harming civilians and ensure their safe passage.

Meanwhile, from the Italian Alps where he is on vacation, Pope Benedict called Sunday for an immediate halt to the fighting.

Expressing concern that such a conflict could widen, he spoke of his profound anguish at the violence that has already caused many innocent victims, and forced many civilians to leave their homes.

The pope urged the international community to make every effort to support and promote initiatives aimed at reaching a peaceful and lasting solution, in favor of an open and respectful coexistence.

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