BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO and the European Union expressed serious concern about fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Georgia’s South Ossetia region on Friday and urged an immediate end to the violence.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called for direct talks between the parties.
“We are very closely following the situation, and the NATO Secretary General 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.
Fighting raged around the capital of South Ossetia on Friday as Georgian troops and warplanes pounded separatist forces in a bid to re-take control of the territory.
The crisis has fuelled fears of 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 European Union 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.
Solana discussed South Ossetia by telephone with Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili on Thursday, including the latter’s offer of a ceasefire, an EU statement said.
The EU has reiterated its willingness to take a greater role in peace efforts.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Writing by David Brunnstrom