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EU observers watch Russian soldiers getting ready to leave Georgian village, © Reporters

Donor conference sends strong signal of support for Georgia.

Until recently Georgia had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies – 12% growth in 2007. That changed during the brief but intense conflict with Russia in August. Key transport routes and utility lines were damaged, buildings and houses reduced to rubble and huge swathes of forest destroyed by bombs.

More than two months later, many foreign investors have taken flight, tourists have disappeared, unemployment has risen and many Georgians have emptied their bank accounts.

The World Bank now estimates that Georgia, a gateway for energy resources to Europe, needs €2.4bn to recover. The EU has committed €500m over the next three years and the US has pledged €757m ($1bn), more than half of it by the end of this year. The EU and the World Bank hosted a donor conference on 22 October, to bring in the remaining €1.1bn.

Nearly 70 countries and institutions were invited to the event. The aid will support reconstruction and help the Georgian government meet the immediate needs of people who had to flee their homes. Tens of thousands of people were uprooted, many of whom are still sheltering in makeshift refugee centres.

But the long-term objective is to revive Georgia’s economy, which has undergone considerable reform in recent years. “It is essential that the crisis should not distract Georgia from the political and economic reform efforts that are, if anything, more important now than before this summer’s conflict,” external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said. The former Soviet republic normally receives about €40m a year from the EU.

Georgia and Russia remain at odds over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian provinces that Russia recognises as independent countries. The two sides held a first round of peace talks in Geneva on 15 October, and negotiations are to resume in November under the auspices of UN and European mediators.

Earlier this month Russian troops pulled out of areas adjacent to the separatist regions, as required by an EU-brokered ceasefire. This allowed EU observers to move into those zones to monitor the ceasefire. Thousands of Russian troops remain in the separatist regions.

More on EU aid to Georgia

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