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Russia Warns Georgia Over South Ossetia

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin

MOSCOW -- Russia has accused Georgia of using disproportionate force in its breakaway province of South Ossetia, at the center of a row between the two countries that the West worries could spill over into conflict.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin issued the warning in a telephone conversation late on August 3 with his Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a press release posted on its website.

"Moscow is seriously concerned about the escalation of tension in the region caused by disproportionate use of force by the Georgian side," Karasin told Vashadze, according to the press release.

Georgia, which has angered Russia by pushing to join NATO, lies at the heart of the Caucasus -- an unstable region that hosts a pipeline pumping oil to Europe from Asia.

Russia's warning followed a weekend of clashes in South Ossetia, a mountainous region bordering Russia that broke away from Georgia after a war in the early 1990s.

At least six people died and more than 15 others were injured in a series of shellings of the regional capital, Tskhinvali, and surrounding villages, which separatist authorities said had deliberately targeted civilians.

Georgia said its forces were only returning fire.

On August 3, more than 500 women and children were moved from South Ossetia to the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia. Separatist spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva said approximately 500 other people would be evacuated on August 4 because of the increase in fighting.

But Georgian forces said the children were simply going on their annual holiday.

"The kids have not been evacuated from South Ossetia," Mamuka Kurashvili, a commander of the Georgian peacekeeping battalion in South Ossetia, told journalists on August 4.

"They have been sent on holiday as happens every summer. The separatist authorities are trying to aggravate the situation in the region. That's why they are making this performance."