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Georgian Soldiers To Be Released

9 July 2004 -- Separatist forces in South Ossetia are due to release 38 Georgian soldiers seized yesterday amid growing tensions between Georgia and the breakaway region.

Irina Gagloeva, a spokeswoman for the South Ossetian government, and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Georgi Khaindrava both said late yesterday the 38 soldiers detained earlier in the day in the village of Vanati would be released.

Georgian Interior Minister Iralki Okruashvili traveled to the region yesterday and said Georgia would work for peace. But he also accused South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity of doing "everything to provoke a new conflict."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher condemned the seizure of the Georgian soldiers and demanded their immediate release.

Also yesterday, a Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Ossetia came under attack, and two Georgian soldiers were reported wounded in that attack. Georgian authorities also said another soldier was wounded in Southern Ossetia yesterday, but under unclear circumstances.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement critical of Georgia, but that makes no mention of the detained Georgian soldiers. Moscow was angered after Georgian troops on 6 July intercepted a Russian convoy carrying military equipment into South Ossetia from Russia. Eight of the 10 vehicles have been released. Two trucks loaded with weapons were sent to Tbilisi.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to restore Georgian control over south Ossetia, which has been under de facto independence since separatist fighting ended in 1992.