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OSCE Monitors Come Under Fire Near South Ossetia

TBILISI (Reuters) -- International monitors in Georgia have been shot at while patrolling near the tense de facto border with the breakaway territory of South Ossetia, but no one was hurt, Georgian police said.

Television pictures showed bullet marks in the windshield and hood of an armored vehicle belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The white overland vehicle was clearly marked with OSCE flags.

It was the first time monitors had come under direct fire in the South Ossetia boundary zone since a five-day war in August, when Russia sent in tanks and troops to repel a Georgian assault on the pro-Moscow rebel capital, Tskhinvali.

A police statement said the vehicle was shot at near the village of Khviti, "from territory controlled by Ossetian separatists." There was no official response from the South Ossetian authorities.

An OSCE spokeswoman told Reuters: "A firing incident has taken place involving an unarmed OSCE monitoring patrol. The full details are being looked into."

A small OSCE mission has monitored the region since South Ossetia broke away from Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s.

The European Union also has some 225 unarmed observers patrolling the boundary zone, deployed under a cease-fire brokered by France after the August war. The area adjacent to South Ossetia was part of a Russian-imposed buffer zone after the war, but Russian forces pulled back to within the rebel territory in October.

Rights groups and Georgian villagers say militias were active in the zone after the war, looting and torching homes.

There are frequent reports of cease-fire violations, usually involving Georgian police and South Ossetian security forces trading fire over the poorly defined boundary line.

Separately on December 10, Georgian police said a "roadside bomb" exploded and damaged a police car south of the de facto border. A spokesman said the device appeared to have been remotely detonated. No one was hurt.

Neither monitoring mission has been allowed to enter South Ossetian territory since the August conflict.