U.S. Demands Russian Withdrawal From Georgia
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the capital of the embattled country of Georgia Friday. U.S. officials say she made the trip to demonstrate American support for its ally in the Caucasus, after Russian troops invaded and occupied a number of Georgian towns.
Rice also brought with her a cease-fire agreement — mediated by France — to bring an end to the hostilities between Russia and Georgia.
Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, emerged Friday after nearly five hours of talks with Rice. After an emotional and characteristically rambling speech, he announced he had agreed to the cease-fire deal with Russia.
"Today, I signed the cease-fire agreement," Saakashvili said. "I have to specify this is a cease-fire agreement — this is not final settlement. We are under Russian invasion, and we are under Russian occupation right now."
Earlier, Saakashvili compared the cease-fire agreement to the 1938 treaty of Munich, which allowed Nazi Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia.
Georgian officials complained that the agreement would allow Russia to "implement additional security measures" for a period of up to six months.
A top aide to the Georgian leader says Saakashvili was reassured after he received clarification from French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who has mediated between Moscow and Tbilisi.
Rice says now it is Russia's turn to show good faith.
"Now, with the signature of the Georgian president on the cease-fire accord, all Russian troops, and any irregular and paramilitary forces that entered with them, must leave immediately," Rice said.
But as Rice and the Georgian president were holding their talks, a column of Russian military vehicles advanced, unopposed, to within 20 miles of the Georgian capital.
Rice said the Russians would have to honor a written agreement, and she reminded Moscow of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which took place 40 years ago this month.
"This is no longer 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, when a great power invaded a small neighbor and overthrew its government," Rice said. "The free world will now have to wrestle with the profound implications of this Russian attack on its neighbor, for security in the region and beyond."
Moscow says its military incursions into Georgian territory are to enforce peace and security in the region.
But behind the columns of Russian tanks have come bands of marauding soldiers and gunmen, who have been looting and burning Georgian villages.
On Thursday, a gunman shot and lightly wounded a Georgian television reporter as she filed an on-camera report near the Russian-occupied town of Gori.
The Russian advance has forced tens of thousands of Georgians to flee their homes.
The Pentagon has begun sending several military cargo planes a day to Tbilisi, delivering humanitarian aid such as tents and food for the refugees. On Friday, Rice announced plans for a package to help rebuild Georgia's economy.
But despite America's show of support, the future of this country rests in the hands of the Kremlin.
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