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Georgian Negotiators In Moscow To Defuse Tensions

13 July 2004 -- A team of Georgian negotiators arrived in Moscow today to try to defuse escalating tensions surrounding Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgian Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili and Minister for Conflict Resolution Georgi Khaindrava were due to meet with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov.

Ahead of the talks, Russia objected to a statement by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who said that Georgians must be ready to defend their country in case of "large-scale aggression by external forces." Saakashvili made the statement after Georgian forces intercepted a Russian convoy heading to South Ossetia.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that if the statement referred to Russia, it is "impossible to understand and unacceptable."

Meanwhile, Saakashvili said in an interview with the BBC in London today that Georgia will not use force to rein in South Ossetia. He said Georgia will find "a middle way" to solve the current crisis with South Ossetia.

South Ossetia has had de facto independence from the central government in Tbilisi since 1992. Recent days have seen a flare up in tensions in the region, with gunfire being traded, border blockades, and the detention of Georgian policemen by South Ossetian forces.

Saakashvili has vowed to bring the region under control of Georgia's central government after winning the presidential election in January.