South Ossetians flee Georgian shelling

Four people are thought to have been killed and more than two dozen injured in artillery exchanges between Georgia and its breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

More residents are now leaving the area as shelling continues in the secessionist capital of Tskhinvali.

After a night of gunfire, the shelling resumed at daybreak. Residents are on the move, evacuating vulnerable areas of the South Ossetian capital.

Authorities in the breakaway region say the bombardment started in Georgian-controlled areas over the border, and they were forced to return fire.

The republic’s President, Eduard Kokoity, says his forces are acting in self defence: "South Ossetia stopped shooting for 40 minutes and Russian peacekeepers attempted to convince Georgia to stop firing. Yet they continue the shooting using heavy artillery and grenades. We opened fire in response," he said.

Hospitals in South Ossetia began filling up with casualties overnight.

Fourteen people received treatment, ten civilians and four military officials.

Georgia is reporting casualties too, accusing South Ossetia of shelling civilian settlements in the border region.

Russia has expressed deep concern about the outbreak of shelling.

The latest reports say Georgia is moving a large contingent of troops to the border region - a move Moscow says could mean its preparing for war.

The Russian government has sent envoys to the region, who along with its permanent peacekeepers there, are pushing for negotiations between the two sides.

South Ossetia has been controlled by an unrecognised separatist government since the end of a war with Georgia in the early 1990s.

Tensions in the region have soared in recent months and outbreaks of violence have become increasingly frequent in the border regions.

Georgia says its an internal affair that can be resolved without outside interference.

But Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned that in the event of an escalation in violence, it will move to defend a region where most residents hold Russian passports.

[Source: Russia Today, Moscow, 07Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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