Georgia starts bombarding South Ossetia

Georgia is reported to have started a bombardment of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and villages near the border. At least 3 people are said to be injured.

"Around half past twelve the bombardment of Tskhinvali started. We don’t know who is shooting. It sounds like mortar and artillery fire, we can hear very loud explosions. On Wednesday night the curfew was introduced for the capital of South Ossetia," Mahmoud Kanbar, correspondent of RT's Arab Language sister channel Rusiya Al-Ayum, reported from South Ossetian capital.

Reports throughout Wednesday suggest there have been a number of border shootouts between Georgian special forces and the South Ossetian military, using small arms and heavy artillery.

Georgia is offering direct talks with South Ossetia, but the separatist republic insists that Russia and North Ossetia should also be involved.

The leader of the self-proclaimed republic, Eduard Kokoity said the situation is "very serious".

"Georgia has tried to build a fortified structure, a block post near the Nuli village. Our reaction to such actions will be very tough because we see them as bandits who open fire on our civilians," he said.

"Russia is putting in a great deal of effort to promote the idea of peace talks. We treat such initiatives with understanding and believe they are necessary. But we insist on the talks including Russia and North Ossetia. We will not hold one-to-one discussions with Georgia," Kokoity said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, said an urgent action is needed and Moscow is ready to help bring both sides to talks.

"I must stress that Russia in this situation is acting as a constructive and responsible mediator the aim of which is to diminish the tensions, to restart the negotiating process aimed at settling of the conflict," Boris Malakhov, deputy spokesman said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tbilisi denied firing at South Ossetia, claiming the violence is designed to wrongly portray Georgia as being aggressive.

The South Ossetian president says he has information that Georgia is planning a large-scale intervention starting in September. Kokoity has ordered around 500 reservists to be called in to swell the ranks of the South Ossetian police force.

He also says a number of volunteers from Russia have expressed a desire to help if Georgia attacks.

"We have an influx of volunteers coming into the republic. So far we see no necessity for them. But those who are arriving are being organised into army units. These units will be under the command of our Defence Ministry," Kokoity said.

Since the beginning of August, the situation in the conflict zone has intensified.

Around three thousand people have been evacuated from villages following last week's artillery exchanges.

Six people were killed and thirteen injured in sniper and mortar fire between the two sides.

South Ossetia declared independence after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s. Georgia rejected the move, saying the region is part of its territory. The resulting armed conflict killed thousands and forced many to leave their homes.

Since the end of the conflict relations remained tense.

[Source: Russia Today, Moscow, 06Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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