No Immediate Access to Georgia Zone for EU

TBILISI, Georgia -- The Russian military said Tuesday that European Union cease-fire monitors would not have immediate access to its "security zone" inside Georgia, drawing accusations from Tbilisi that it was stalling a promised troop pullback.

After routing Georgian forces in a five-day war in August, Russia established the buffer zone on Georgian territory adjoining South Ossetia, a rebel, pro-Russian province that Moscow has now recognized as an independent state.

EU monitors want to enter the zone so Moscow can withdraw from it as promised under a French-brokered cease-fire, but the Russian military said a technical agreement on access had not yet been finalized.

"From tomorrow, representatives of the European Union will begin conducting monitoring up to the southern borders of the security zone," Vitaly Manushko, spokesman for Russian peacekeepers around South Ossetia, told reporters in the Georgian village of Karaleti.

He said "work will continue" on the question of EU access.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, visiting the Georgian capital Tbilisi, said in response to the Russian comments that he was "optimistic" that Moscow would comply with the cease-fire deal to pull back from security zones inside Georgia by Oct. 10.

"I am optimistic that all parties will comply with the agreement that was signed," Solana said.

The EU mission in Georgia played down the significance of not patrolling the security zone from Oct. 1. "The technical talks are an ongoing process," an official with the mission said on condition of anonymity.

"The idea was never for the Russians to completely withdraw by Oct 1. We'll give them time to pack up and go back," the official said. "We never expected to be running around the security zone from [Oct. 1]."

Georgia accused Russia of "trying to prolong the process" and said the 10-day countdown for Russia to withdraw from undisputed Georgian territory would start Wednesday.