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MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian border guards have begun patrolling the de-facto borders of Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia, Interfax news agency reported on May 2, citing the region's leader, Eduard Kokoity.

"Immediately after the agreement on the joint protection of the borders was signed last Thursday in Moscow, Russia border troops were brought into South Ossetian territory," Kokoity said, Interfax reported.

"Right now, Russian border troops are monitoring the situation at the border with Georgia and settling the initial issues involved in protecting it," he added.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev signed the pacts giving Russia direct control over the borders of the tiny rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were both recognised by Moscow as independent states after a brief war between Russia and Georgia last year.

The deployment of the border guards comes days before NATO is to hold military exercises in Georgia that Medvedev said amounted to a challenge from the West.