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Georgia Withdraws Troops From South Ossetia

31 May 2004 -- Georgian authorities sent extra troops into the separatist Republic of South Ossetia today, then withdrew them hours later after receiving guarantees from Russian peacekeepers.

Georgian Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruazhvili said the extra forces were sent to South Ossetia after reports that Russian peacekeepers there intended to dismantle checkpoints that Georgia has set up outside ethnic Georgian villages.

The checkpoints were established, officially, to prevent smuggling, a widespread problem in South Ossetia.

Georgian Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili said the decision to bring the extra Georgian forces out of South Ossetia was made after the commanders of the Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia said the checkpoints would remain.

The leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, told Russian NTV television that he had ordered his militia to respond with force if Georgian troops tried to invade South Ossetia.

Earlier today, South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva characterized the Georgian government's decision to send extra troops as "pure provocation." Gagloeva said the move was calculated to involve Russian peacekeepers in a military conflict.

She said that the Georgian Interior Ministry was making very dangerous statements and added that authorities in South Ossetia were frightened.

Meanwhile, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania warned Russian peacekeepers not to get involved in the internal dispute.

South Ossetia has been de facto independent since a 1992 truce signed by Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, and North Ossetia that ended separatist fighting.

(RFE/wire reports)

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