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Senior Russian Peacekeeper Said Killed In Ossetia Blast

Russian soldiers at a checkpoint outside South Ossetia
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A senior Russian peacekeeping officer was among seven soldiers killed in an explosion in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on October 3, Russian media report.

Seven Russian peacekeepers died and another seven were wounded when a car filled with explosives blew up near their base in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, news agencies reported.

RIA-Novosti quoted a representative of Russia's Ground Force as saying that Colonel Ivan Petrik, the Russian peacekeepers' chief of staff, was killed in that blast. He was in his office when the explosion went off near the building.

"Petrik was severely wounded by the blast wave and died at the explosion site," RIA quoted the official as saying.

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity immediately blamed Georgian security services for the blast. The Georgian Interior Ministry denied the charges.

Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s.

Russian forces subsequently drove Georgian government troops out of South Ossetia. Moscow's troops then pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks.

The West has condemned Russia for a "disproportionate response" to Georgia's actions and demanded that Moscow pull back its troops from Georgian territory outside the conflict zones.

Moscow recognized Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence in late August, drawing further criticism from Western leaders.

Under a plan mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, EU monitors have now entered a Russian-controlled buffer zone around South Ossetia to begin a peacekeeping operation.

On October 3, Russia's Defense Ministry said it viewed the explosion as "a deliberately planned terrorist act aimed at preventing the sides from carrying out the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan" but did not specify who exactly was behind the blast.

EU cease-fire monitors were continuing operations despite security concerns after the blast.

A spokesman for the mission said unarmed monitors had been patrolling as normal one day after the blast, including within the Russian-controlled buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia.