By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 9, 2008 - President Bush today called for an end to hostilities in South Ossetia that's pitting Georgian forces against Russian troops and regional separatists. In Beijing to view the start of the Summer Olympic Games hosted by China, Bush said the conflict in South Ossetia, a part of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, threatens peace across the region.
"We have urged an immediate halt to the violence," Bush told reporters in Beijing. He also called for an end to Russian air strikes that reportedly have bombed targets in South Ossetia and Georgia.
Bush reportedly has discussed events in South Ossetia with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was also in Beijing.
Georgia declared its independence from the then-Soviet Union in 1991. However, many South Ossetia residents continued to profess Russian allegiance.
Yesterday, Russian tanks and troops crossed the border into South Ossetia. Fighting escalated in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital city and reportedly has reached into parts of Georgia.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters yesterday the Pentagon was closely monitoring the situation in South Ossetia. Whitman said about 130 U.S. military and civilian personnel were located near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi helping to train Georgian troops for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. All of the Americans have been accounted for, and none had been injured, he said.
The U.S. State Department is the lead U.S. agency regarding the situation in South Ossetia, Whitman said yesterday.
"The United States calls for an immediate ceasefire to the armed conflict in Georgia's region of South Ossetia," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement released yesterday. "We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia's territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil."
Rice said she and other senior U.S. officials "have spoken with the parties and continue to work with them to seek an end to hostilities." The United States, she continued, is working with its European partners to launch international mediation to end the conflict.
"We urgently seek Russia's support of these efforts," Rice said in her statement.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department reportedly has dispatched a senior envoy, deputy assistant secretary of state Matthew Bryza, to the region to try to arrange a peace agreement.
Senior UN and NATO leaders have also called to end the fighting in South Ossetia and urged that a peaceful settlement be found.