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Russia to Limit EU Access to South Ossetia Buffer Zone


Russia's military says European Union peacekeepers will not have immediate access to the buffer zone surrounding South Ossetia when their mission in Georgia begins Wednesday.

A spokesman for Russian forces in South Ossetia, Vitaly Mauchko, told reporters Tuesday the monitors can patrol up to the southern limit of the Russian-controlled security zone.

Russia had already said it will refuse peacekeepers access into South Ossetia itself, or into Abkhazia. Moscow has recognized both regions as independent states, rather than Georgian territory.

The EU says it should have access to all of Georgia, including the breakaway regions.

Russian forces are expected to pull back from the buffer zones by October 10, a deadline set by an EU-brokered peace deal earlier this month.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says he is optimistic that Moscow will comply with the cease-fire by that date. He spoke during a visit to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Tuesday ahead of the start of the EU peacekeeping mission.

About 300 unarmed EU observers have been deployed to Georgia to monitor the Russian troop withdrawal, following their recent war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

EU officials say 22 countries are expected to participate in the force, which is made up largely of police and security officials. It is due to be fully deployed in Georgia by October 1.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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