Georgia, separatist South Ossetia in heavy fighting

Georgia and its Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia reported heavy fighting Thursday that left at least 20 wounded in overnight clashes. Georgia's Foreign Ministry released a sharp-worded statement on Thursday accusing Russian forces of arming the rebel regions.

Planned peace talks on Thursday with Russian negotiators fell apart in the face of the soaring tensions.

"The military assistance rendered to the separatists' criminal regime by the Russian Federation, in violation of all agreements, cannot be assessed in any other way than as another act of aggression committed against Georgia," said the statement, a copy of which was released to the European Union.

News agency Interfax cited officials in the South Ossetia as saying Georgian forces were shelling villages in and surrounding its capital Tskhinvali, using machine guns, mortars and artillery.

The South Ossetian side also said that Georgia had deployed 27 rocket launchers and increased troops at the border.

A Georgian armored personnel carrier had been blown up in an attack on the village of Avnevi, Georgia's Interior Ministry said.

"But we also do not recommend anyone to continue provocations," Saakashvili told journalists from a military hospital in the town of Gori near the breakaway region, where he visited two soldiers injured in overnight fighting.

South Ossetia claimed 18 people were injured in the earlier clashes.

Local media cited witnesses saying they had seen military convoys on the route from western Georgia toward its two separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, wearing military fatigues, said in televised shots that he was holding troops on high alert in the wake of the fresh clashes.

The rebel regions fought wars of independence against Tbilisi in the early 1990s, but have not been recognized by any other country. Since 1994, they have been occupied by Russian peacekeepers under a UN deal.

Moscow is widely seen as backing the breakaway regions.

On Thursday, Russia accused Georgia of "irresponsible military action."

Acting Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin called on Tbilisi "to show the reasonable and weighed approach, to stop military preparations and power actions."

"The international community should be seriously concerned over this," Georgia's Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili told a news conference earlier Thursday, lobbying support against Russian support for for the rebel regions.

Tbilisi has won US backing in protesting such actions by Moscow as the creeping annexation of its territory.

After weekend fighting, South Ossetian authorities reported six people dead, and began evacuating hundreds of children and women by bus across the border to Russia.

[Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Tbilisi and Moscow, 07Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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