August 8, 2008 / 3:27 PM / 11 years ago

West urges end to South Ossetia fighting

By Ingrid Melander and David Brunnstrom

BRUSSELS, Aug 8 (Reuters) - NATO, the European Union and the United States called for an immediate end to fighting in Georgia’s South Ossetia region and urged direct talks between the sides.

Russia sent forces into Georgia on Friday to repel a Georgian assault on the breakaway region and Georgia’s pro-Western president said the two countries were at war.

"We are very closely following the situation, and the NATO Secretary General (Jaap de Hoop Scheffer) calls on all sides for an immediate end of the armed clashes and calls for direct talks between the parties," a NATO statement said.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU was very concerned by how the situation was evolving. "We repeat our message to all parties to immediately stop the violence," he said.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said during a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush to the Beijing Olympics: "All sides should bring an immediate end to the violence and engage in direct talks to resolve this matter peacefully."

Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin discussed Georgia, Johndroe said on Friday, but gave no information about the talks or their timing. The two leaders were seen chatting before a luncheon hosted by China for foreign leaders attending the Olympics.

Solana would be speaking by telephone to both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, the EU spokesman said.

France, holder of the EU presidency, said its foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, had been in contact with all the parties involved with the aim of achieving a ceasefire.

A statement from the French Foreign Ministry reiterated France’s support for the territorial integrity of Georgia, a position held by the EU as a whole and NATO.

EU-member Lithuania, a staunch ally of Saakashvili, said it would send its foreign minister on a fact-finding mission to Georgia on Friday, the president’s office said.

The crisis, the first to confront Russian President Dmitry Medvedev since he took office in May, looked close to spiralling into full-blown war in a region emerging as a key energy transit route, and where Russia and the West are vying for influence.

Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has angered Russia by allying itself with the West and pushing to join NATO. It lies at the heart of the Caucasus — an unstable region which hosts a pipeline pumping oil to Europe from Asia.

The EU has reiterated its willingness to take a greater role in peace efforts. It said it was in contact with international partners including Russia, the United States, Georgia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) about the situation. (Writing by Janet Lawrence; Editing by Mary Gabriel)

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