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South Ossetia Reports Agreement With Georgia

South Ossetian militiamen (file photo) Prague, 17 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's separatist republic of South Ossetia today said Tbilisi has agreed to withdraw all Interior Ministry troops sent into the region last June in violation of the 1992 peace agreement.

Speaking to RFE/RL from Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's Press and Information Committee head Irina Gagloeva said the deal was secured during a meeting between Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze and his separatist counterpart, Anatolii Barankevich.

"The ministers of defense of South Ossetia and Georgia met this morning and agreed that Georgia's illegal armed units will be withdrawn from South Ossetia and that roadbocks [around ethnic Georgian villagers] will be removed," Gagloeva said.

Tbilisi's recent decision to send Interior Ministry troops into South Ossetia -- officially to combat smugglers and protect ethnic Georgians living in the area -- has triggered renewed concerns in Tskhinvali, which fears Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili may attempt to reassert central government control over the region by force.

Deadly clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces have been reported on a daily basis for the past week.

Tbilisi says one of its soldiers was killed overnight by separatist fire. South Ossetia denies the claim, saying Georgian Interior Ministry troops opened fire first.

For the latest news on the tensions in South Ossetia, see RFE/RL's webpage on Ossetia and Georgia.