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Saakashvili: South Ossetia A Russian, Georgian Concern

16 July 2004 -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says the effort to resolve tensions in the breakaway region of South Ossetia is a matter only for Georgia and Russia.

Saakashvili's comments today seemed to indicate he sees no place in discussions for South Ossetian leaders who are favoring independence.

There have been tensions in South Ossetia for several weeks now as local forces try to assert control over the territory while Georgia's government repeats that it wants back full control over the region.

Russian peacekeepers are also stationed in South Ossetia. There have been fears fighting could break out after several incidents raised tensions in the region.

The commander of the combined peacekeeping force in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict zone, Major General Svyatoslav Nabzdorov, told RFE/RL the situation has calmed.

"Today, according to the operational information, we can say that the situation in the conflict zone is calm," he said. "The South Ossetian side has begun withdrawing its illegal formations, and it is now possible to travel without seeing armed formations of 20 to 30 people along the roads as before, although this information has not been confirmed. But the Georgian side has not yet begun [withdrawing their forces]."

Saakashvili told reporters that more than 230 militants who crossed into South Ossetia from the Russian republic of North Ossetia have departed back across the border after Russian peacekeepers told them to leave.

(Interfax, RFE/RL)