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Georgia, Ossetia Rebels Clash, Trade Accusations

  • RFE/RL

Georgian soldiers on the road near the village of Ergneti in South Ossetia on August 5

Georgian soldiers on the road near the village of Ergneti in South Ossetia on August 5

Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia exchanged fire overnight, amid a spike in fighting between both sides.

South Ossetian authorities claim 18 people were wounded by Georgian fire, which they say targeted several villages in the province as well as its capital of Tskhinvali.

The leader of the Russian-backed region, Eduard Kokoity, accused Georgian forces of starting the fighting

"Russian peacekeepers did everything to make the Georgian side stop firing mortars, grenade launchers, and large-caliber weapons on the city of Tskhinvali," Kokoity said. "But the firing didn't cease, and we were forced to return fire. We will now do our best to suppress this."

For his part, Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili blamed South Ossetia for initiating the hostilities.

"They came up with a new method. They shoot at us from civilian objects, from schools and hospitals, so that in case of return fire that causes damages, they can present it as a barbarian act by the Georgians," Iakobashvili said.

"This is indeed a barbarian act on their part, because they carry out their propaganda at the expense of the life, health, and well-being of residents."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili traveled on August 7 to the city of Gori, close to the de facto border with South Ossetia, to visit the two Georgian troops wounded in the fighting.

He, too, pinned the blame on South Ossetia and its longtime backer Russia, and urged all sides to "put an end to this craziness."

"I'm sure that the deepening of the confrontation is not in the Russian Federation's interests; it is certainly not in Georgia's interests," Saakashvili said.

"What is happening now is the result of a long-standing policy of hysterical militarization, of constant war rhetoric, of the militaristic propaganda waged by Russian television over the past few days over this tiny region that is home to just 30,000 people," he added. "Those who have pursued this policy all these years are responsible for all of this."

Tensions between Georgia and its two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have grown more intense in recent months. Russia accused Georgia on August 7 of preparing for war against South Ossetia.

Both regions broke away from central Georgian government in a war in the early 1990s. Moscow's political and financial support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia has riled Saakashvili, who has vowed to bring back both regions into the fold. Georgia has angered Moscow by pushing for NATO membership.

The United States, Georgia's main ally in the West, on August 6 urged all sides to resume negotiations. But the latest fighting cast doubt on a meeting scheduled this week between Georgian and South Ossetian officials in Tskhinvali.

Iakobashvili told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the meeting will not take place on August 7 but may still be held later this week. But South Ossetian authorities said the talks are cancelled and have refused meeting outside the framework of the Joint Control Commission, which includes representatives from South Ossetia, Georgia, Russia, and the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report
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