14 Aug 2008

US aid flown into Georgia

4:00 pm on 14 August 2008

US military planes have begun delivering aid to Georgia as Washington steps up support for a ceasefire with Russian troops around the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is going to Tbilisi on Wednesday after talks in Paris. Her trip comes six days into the conflict.

President George Bush earlier demanded that Moscow abide by an agreed ceasefire and withdraw Russian troops sent into Georgia where fighting began last Thursday.

Moscow rejects claims its troops and armour have advanced on Tbilisi or looted the key town of Gori, 60km west of the capital, just across the Kura river from South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States needed to choose between partnership with Moscow or the Georgian leadership, which he characterised as a "virtual project" of the Bush administration.

President Bush ordered humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Tbilisi on US military aircraft after speaking with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili earlier in the day.

A US C-17 military aircraft carrying supplies has arrived in Georgia and a second flight is planned for Thursday.

Meanwhile, Moscow has announced an emergency aid package for South Ossetia, with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin pledging 10 billion roubles ($US414 million) to rebuild the shattered region.

Russia says its forces have dismantled and destroyed military hardware and ammunition at an undefended Georgian military base near Gori, 25km from South Ossetia.

A Russian military statement said the action was taken to demilitarise the conflict zone, but eyewitnesses reported widespread shooting and looting by South Ossetian separatists.