European observers have entered the buffer zone around Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia for the first time this morning, to monitor the ceasefire with Russia. Moscow’s troops must pull back from undisputed Georgian territory by the end of next week, to allow the observers to patrol the security zone.
Last-minute talks in the Georgian village of Karaleti finally ended with the 300 observers and support staff being allowed to start work. Even then there was a hiccup: the first EU patrol was stopped at a Russian checkpoint on the edge of the zone this morning, but was waved through after more negotiations.
The monitors want to co-ordinate the withdrawal of the Russians from the zone and a simultaneous return of Georgian police to avoid a security vacuum which could be exploited by roaming militias. The EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana is in Georgia, visiting refugees at camps around Gori. It is unclear whether the EU monitors will be allowed into South Ossetia and Abkhazia; they insist their mandate covers the whole of Georgia, but Moscow says they will not be allowed to operate inside the rebel regions.