September 27th, 2007 01:50 EST
Tension in Georgia-Ossetia conflict zone
Heavy gunfire erupted in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on Wednesday, raising tension in the disputed zone. Russian peacekeepers confirm heavy weapons were used. Georgia and Ossetian separatists blame each other for starting the shootout.
At least one person was injured in the fighting.
The Georgian TV channel, Rustavi-2, reported that Georgian villages came under gun attack from a cement plant on the outskirts of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. They also say heavy weapons were used, which are banned in the conflict zone under the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and South Ossetia.
South Ossetian sources claim the shots initially came from the Georgian side into Tskhinvali. They say one woman was injured as a result.
“At about 21.30 the Georgian side fired into the suburbs of Tskhinvali. Many houses were destroyed and a 30-year-old woman was severely wounded in the chest. The shooting was from weapons of different calibres, including grenade guns. The Russian Ambassador of Special Missions, Mr [Yury]Popov, is here, and is arranging a meeting of the Joint Control Commission. This is an attempt to scuttle that meeting. A similar attempt was made last year,” said Boris Chochiev, South Ossetian Government Deputy Chairman.
Meanwhile, Georgia's Deputy Minister for Conflict Resolution, Dmitry Mandjavidze, said he had just had very productive negotiations with his Russian counterpart, Yury Popov. Mr Mandjavidze has also suggested that the incident is connected with an agreement reached in the negotiations. He added that whenever the opposing sides seemed close to agreement, an incident such as the latest one often took place.
Both sides have launched investigations to find out who started the shooting.
Russian peacekeepers stationed in the area confirm that shots were fired, but stopped short of saying who started it. Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the peacekeeping force in South Ossetia, confirmed the use of mortars and heavy guns in the firefight.
The ITAR TASS news agency says the self-proclaimed republic's President, Eduard Kokoyti, has ordered retaliation to the alleged attack.
He reportedly ordered heavy weapons to return fire.
South Ossetia broke away from Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.
An armed conflict began when Georgia tried to retain control. It lasted two years, claiming the lives of about 4,000 people. A peace-keeping contingent of South-Ossetian, Georgian and Russian troops has been stationed there since the truce of 1992.
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