Russia forces Georgia peace mission to end

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The OSCE said yesterday it would start shutting down its mission in Georgia on 1 January after Russia blocked a proposal to extend it in a standoff over the status of the breakaway South Ossetia region.

Moscow wants to split up the international democracy and human rights group's mission in Georgia to reflect Russia's recognition of South Ossetia as an independent state after crushing Georgia's bid to retake the separatist territory.

The United States and European allies in the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have not recognized the independence of pro-Russian South Ossetia, which enjoyed autonomy when Georgia was part of the old Soviet Union.

They sought a short-term "technical extension" of the OSCE's Georgia mandate beyond Dec. 31 to allow time for negotiations on a solution but Russia rejected the idea. The OSCE takes decisions by consensus only.

An OSCE meeting at its Vienna headquarters yesterday failed to overcome the stalemate over Moscow's bid to strip OSCE operations in Georgia of any mandate over South Ossetia.

"A consensus for a three-month technical extension was not possible today so it means we have to start withdrawing the mission, ceasing activities, on Jan. 1," Ambassador Antti Turunen of Finland, the current OSCE chairman, told reporters.

"We had one side defending the territorial integrity of Georgia and the other the 'independence' of South Ossetia. The sides are so far apart it made no sense trying to bridge the gap before Dec. 31," he said.