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Georgian Policeman Shot Dead In Russian 'Buffer Zone'

Russian soldiers standing guard at Karaleti
TBILISI (Reuters) -- A Georgian policeman has been shot dead near a Russian checkpoint at a buffer zone adjacent to breakaway South Ossetia, Georgian police said.

Police said the officer was shot in the head "from the direction of the Russian checkpoint," but that Russian forces had denied involvement.

The officer was standing at a Georgian police position several hundred meters from the Russian checkpoint in the village of Karaleti, at the entrance to the buffer zone.

"The Russians said they believe the policeman was shot at by Ossetians and they promised to investigate the incident and punish those responsible," police spokesman Shota Utiashvili told Reuters.

He said Georgian police did not return fire and that the situation in the area was calm.

Separatist authorities in South Ossetia denied involvement.

"We have nothing to do with this incident," Irina Gagloyeva, head of the Committee for Press and Information, said by telephone from the breakaway capital Tskhinvali, 30 kilometers north of Karaleti.

Gagloyeva said the closest Ossetian-populated village was 4 kilometers from the area, and suggested the incident may have been the result of "infighting" between Georgian police and army.

Russia agreed on September 8 to withdraw its soldiers from "security zones" outside the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a month.

The troops pushed into undisputed Georgian territory last month having poured over Russia's southern border into breakaway South Ossetia to repel a Georgian assault mounted to retake the territory from pro-Moscow separatists.