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Diplomatic Efforts Stepped Up as Georgia, Russia Refuse to Back Down 

  • Emma Stickgold

Russian planes continued bombing raids on Georgia Monday, ignoring international appeals for the country to observe Georgia's offer for a cease-fire. Russian leaders say Georgia has yet to fully honor the cease-fire, claiming that Georgian forces have continued to attack the breakaway province of South Ossetia's capital, Tskinvali. Emma Stickgold has this report for the VOA in Moscow.

Speaking to Russian governments officials Monday, President Dmitry Medvedev said a major part of Russia's operations in South Ossetia was complete. Mr. Medvedev also reiterated Russia's claim that the capital city of Tskhinvali was now under Russian control.

Georgian officials said Russian warplanes bombed a location near Tblisi International Airport, and that Russia had launched what it called a massive aerial bombardment of Gori, a Georgian city not far from South Ossetia.

An additional nine thousand Russia paratroopers and more than 350 armored vehicles were expected to be deployed to Georgia's breakaway province Abkhazia, to bolster Russian troops that are permanently based in the region.

But while Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Georgian troops were withdrawing from Tskhinvali, Russian officials and reporters on the scene said Georgian forces pummeled the rebel capital with artillery fire overnight.

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met with Mr. Saakashvili to seek agreement on a peace plan proposed by the European Union. Kouchner laid out the four-pronged solution as such.

"First point, a cease-fire. Second, access to the victims. The third point is the withdrawal of the troops on both sides, a controlled withdrawal of the troops. It means that we need controllers, watchers, people in charge of, and a fourth, most important in a way, the fourth point is of course comeback to the political process, and it means that the European Union at least, and the OSCE, both of them, they are ready to do so, but for the rest we'll see - UN involvement or not, etcetera. Let's come back to the key of the problem, the key is a political key, certainly not a military key," he said. "That's the four points."

Mr. Medvedev invoked Mr. Putin's characterization of the Georgian military action as genocide.

Mr. Medvedev said every effort should be made to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes so that a criminal prosecution can be carried out.

Mr. Saakshvili said his country was not the aggressor in this situation, and that the world has not seen something like the current conflict in decades.

"We are really seeing an absolutely unparalleled situation since many, many decades in the world," said Mikhail Saakshvili. "This is the most surreal world crisis I could ever imagine and it's very unfortunate that it is happening in my country. I insist that it's happening unprovoked by us, and I insist that it was all pre-planned."

U.S. President George Bush said he told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that the violence in the region was "unacceptable," and that Russia's response was "disproportionate."

The fighting began Friday when Georgia sought to regain South Ossetia from separatists in a major offensive. Russia, which has close ties to the province, has since responded by sending thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks.

The recent violence is the worst to break out since South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1992. South Ossetians are eager to join fellow Ossetians in North Ossetia, which was included within Russian borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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