UN Court Sets Hearings Sought by Georgia

AMSTERDAM -- The president of the UN's highest court issued an urgent appeal for restraint Friday until the tribunal meets next month to hear Georgia's petition seeking a halt to Russian military actions against civilians.

The International Court of Justice said it will hear arguments from both sides Sept. 8 to 10 at its seat in The Hague on Georgia's request to intervene in its dispute with Russia over breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In an unusual measure, Judge Rosalyn Higgins sent a message to both countries asking them to act in the meantime in a way that would facilitate whatever decision the court reaches.

Georgia filed a suit Wednesday that accused Russia of conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing since the early 1990s. The next day, as Russian forces stepped up the pressure, Tbilisi filed a second request seeking the court's intervention to safeguard civilians targeted by Russians and separatists.

Russia has not responded to Georgia's legal actions, and a court spokeswoman could not immediately say who would represent Russia at the hearings. But Russia has raised the possibility that it would bring charges of genocide at an unspecified international court against Georgia for its attempt to retake control of South Ossetia.

The 15-judge tribunal's findings are binding, although it has no power of enforcement.