TBILISI, Georgia – European Union military observers will be deployed in Georgia by an Oct. 1 deadline despite Moscow's continued insistence that they will not be allowed into two breakaway regions occupied by Russian troops, the head of the EU mission pledged Monday.
Under a French-brokered cease-fire, Russia has 10 days to withdraw its forces from Georgian areas outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia once the EU observers are in place.
Hansjoerg Haber, who is heading the EU mission, promised that the 200 observers will be in place near the cities of Gori, Zugdidi and Poti by Oct. 1 — a promise that was praised by Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze.
"The deployment is a pivotal step to stabilize the situation," Gurgenidze said after meeting Haber. "We appreciate the speed with which they sent the mission."
The presence of non-Russian, foreign observers in Georgia was a key aspect of the updated cease-fire deal reached between Russia and Georgia earlier this month. But the scope and effectiveness of the EU mission — and that of other foreign observers — has been in doubt due to Moscow's refusal to allow the observers into Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Moscow has also balked at letting more monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe into South Ossetia. The OSCE had hoped to send an additional 80 unarmed observers to South Ossetia, but talks with Russia broke down last week.
The United Nations also has a small observer force in the region.
Moscow intends to keep around 3,600 troops in each region, both of which it has recognized as independent states.
Haber made no comments about EU observers having access to South Ossetia or Abkhazia.
War in Georgia broke out Aug. 7 when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia's main city and Russia repelled the Georgian offensive, routed its army and occupied swaths of Georgian territory.
Also Monday, Georgian officials said a Georgia police officer was killed and three others were wounded when Abkhazian fighters fired on a Georgian police checkpoint Sunday.
Another two Georgian officers were wounded Monday when they went into the area and stepped on a land mine, Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
Georgia's Foreign Ministry alleged that Sunday's shooting was the third to come from the direction of a Russian police checkpoint.
Russians officials could not be reached for comment.