Russia and Georgia have agreed to a provisional cease-fire that ends five days of conflict in a truce negotiated by France's president. But Georgian officials have made disturbing allegations about the activities of Russian militias and say Russia is still occupying Georgian territories.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
The warring sides in Georgia have agreed to stop. Russia and Georgia agreed to what's described as a provisional cease-fire. It comes after fighting that killed hundreds, displaced tens of thousands, and forced the world's attention to a volatile region.
The many people talking about this include Republican presidential candidate John McCain. We will interview McCain after we get an update from Georgia's capital. NPR's Ivan Watson is there. And Ivan, what does this cease-fire agreement say?
IVAN WATSON: Well, it's calling for a temporary secession of hostilities, but I just spoke with Georgian officials who are really questioning whether it is truly a ceasefire because I've just returned from a press conference with the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili. He said there was no Russian bombardment overnight last night but he has made fresh, disturbing allegations of Russian activities against ethnic Georgians in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Let's listen to what he just said at this press conference.
President MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI (Georgia): Camps were set; women and men were separated from each other; internment camps were set up, set, and we are getting reports of large-scale violations of human rights.
WATSON: The Georgians are claiming, Steve, that Russian irregular militia forces are moving through Georgian villages, looting and executing people in and around South Ossetia. The Georgian government also claims that Russian troops destroyed yesterday Georgian military boats in the Black Sea port of Poti. And finally, Georgian officials have just claimed that dozens of Russian tanks just rolled through the town of Gori, which is just 50 miles west of here, the Georgian capital, Steve.
INSKEEP: So Ivan Watson, you have these claims both that this fighting is even grimmer than it seems and perhaps that it's not over. What kinds of reports are you hearing from elsewhere in Georgia?
WATSON: Steve, I just got off the phone with a resident in the town of Gori. She said she was standing two yards away from a Russian tank in the center of the town, that there were 10 to 15 of these Russian tanks rolling through that town as we speak. I also spoke to a resident in the Black Sea port of Poti. She says that Russian armored vehicles were operating in that town Monday and Tuesday but have since withdrawn.
And the Russians have also occupied, according to eyewitness reports, at least two other Georgian towns in the west - west of the country. So the situation is pretty grim for this country, Steve. The Georgian army has been smashed as of Monday - it's nowhere to be seen - and the government is not in control of many of its bigger towns west of the capital.
And we also have tens of thousands of people displaced, both from South Ossetia and from Georgian territory, and they are terrified of both the advancing Russian troops and even more so of rumors of these irregular Russian-backed forces operating in the area, militia-type people who are said to be looting and marauding. I unfortunately cannot confirm those reports right now.
INSKEEP: Ivan, very briefly, is Georgia getting any international support in this situation?
WATSON: The presidents of five ex-Soviet bloc countries appeared on stage with the Georgian president yesterday, Steve. They are showing solidarity with Georgia against Russia. They are clearly worried that if the Russians move on Georgia that they could be next, and they are saying as much in statements with the Georgian president.
So Georgia is getting support but I think these new reports are destroying some of the euphoria that was being felt at a concert yesterday in Tbilisi in the town square with these five presidents standing alongside the Georgian president, showing defiance against Moscow.
INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Ivan Watson in Georgia's capital.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Bush Urges Russia To Honor Truce In Georgia
NPR's Michele Kelemen discusses President Bush's remarks with Alex Chadwick on 'Day to Day'
President Bush on Wednesday called on Russia to live up to a cease-fire deal with Georgia, expressing concern over the continuing crisis and pledging humanitarian aid to the Western-backed former Soviet republic.
The president's remarks from the White House Rose Garden came as Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili said Russian forces were still burning and looting towns despite the truce. Saakashvili said the West's response to Russia's military intervention "looks like appeasement."
"There is no cease-fire," Saakashvili told CNN Wednesday a day after Russian forces shattered the Georgian army Monday after forcing it out of South Ossetia. "We have a humanitarian disaster on our hands."
Bush said the U.S. expects all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw. He said he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris to consult with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the truce. Then, she would go to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to express solidarity with the democratically elected leadership there.
"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," Bush said.
Later Wednesday, Rice said Russian officials risk further isolation from the rest of the world if hostilities continue. "If indeed Russia is violating a cease-fire, and I have to say the reports are not encouraging about Russia's respect for the cease-fire ... that will only serve to deepen the isolation to which Russia is moving," said Rice, adding that Russia's response was out of proportion.
Bush said a U.S. Air Force C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies is en route to Georgia, and he called on Russia to ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.
The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that a U.S. Air Force C-17 was enroute from Germany to Georgia carrying such items as medical supplies and bedding. Another flight was scheduled for Thursday. A 12-member U.S. government assistance team would also be sent "soon," a Pentagon spokesman said.
Earlier, Georgia's Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said that Russia had moved 50 tanks into Gori, a strategic town 15 miles from the border with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, in violation of the accord. Witnesses in Gori backed up the Georgian claim, but the RIA-Novosti news agency cited the Russian Defense Ministry as denying any of its troops were in the town.
The Russian incursion began last week after Georgian forces moved against separatists in South Ossetia.
Saakashvili said Russian forces were cutting off roads and shooting people. He said the pro-Moscow separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were carrying out ethnic cleansing, burning villages and conducting summary executions.
Saakashvili's remarks came hours after the two sides accepted in principle a cease-fire to end the bloodshed. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said his nation would halt military action because Georgia had been "punished" for last week's attack on South Ossetia.