Sarkozy hails military operation halt against Georgia

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Moscow, Aug 12 (UNI) French President Nicolas Sarkozy today welcomed Russia's decision to halt its military operation against Georgia, and called on both countries' troops to return to their preconflict positions.

Ahead of talks with his French counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered to end the military operation against Georgia after five days of fighting that followed Georgia's military offensive to seize breakaway South Ossetia.

However, Mr Medvedev said Georgia must pull its troops back before a peace settlement can be reached.

''We can discuss a final settlement to the situation, which will be possible on condition that Georgian troops pull back to their initial positions, with a partial demilitarisation of armed units and the second point - the signing of a relevant legally binding ceasefire agreement,'' Mr Medvedev said at the start of the talks with Mr Sarkozy, in the Kremlin.

During the talks, Mr Sarkozy who holds the European Union rotating presidency, told Mr Medvedev the decision was ''good news,'' and urged for a timetable to be drawn up for each side to return to their positions before the conflict.

Mr Sarkozy said Russia's desire to protect its compatriots' interests in South Ossetia was understandable, but urged it to use its military strength to ensure peace.

''It is understandable that Russia wants to protect its compatriots' and Russian speaking peoples' interests abroad, and it is also understandable that the international community wants to protect Georgia's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,'' he said.

''Russia can use its might to ensure peace. This is the reason why I am in Moscow,'' he noted.

Mr Sarkozy brought a settlement plan to Moscow drafted by the EU and OSCE, which was reported to have been approved by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier today questioned some of the draft's provisions, saying Moscow objects to Georgian troops remaining in South Ossetia, in view of their attack last week on Russian colleagues.

The fighting in South Ossetia continued today, with Russia bombing military targets in Georgia, and skirmishes reported along the border between Georgia and South Ossetia.

Russian forces drove Georgian troops out of the ruined capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Sunday.

UNI XC PD BST1955

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