South Ossetia rejects peace talks

Leader of separatist region rejects meeting with Georgia due to format of talks.

    Georgian peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia [AFP]

    Georgian and Russian officials had previously announced on Tuesday that the first bilateral talks in a decade would take place in Tskhinvali on Thursday.

    Georgian officials continued to insist that the meeting would take place, despite the denials from South Ossetia.

    Marina Salukvadze, a spokeswoman for Temur Yakobashvili, the Georgian reintegration minister, said: "The meeting will be held."

    Violent clashes

    Meanwhile, both sides have accused the other of opening fire on villages with automatic rifles and heavy weapons on Wednesday.

    South Ossetia said in statements on its website that four Ossetian villages had come under heavy fire throughout the day.

    It also reported that Georgian special forces had attempted to seize high ground over a strategic road, but been repulsed by rebel fighters.

    South Ossetia said it had destroyed two Georgian armoured personnel carriers during the battle, but Tbilisi denied the report.

    Shota Utiashvili, a Georgian interior ministry spokesman, said that Georgian forces had only returned fire after Ossetian positions began shelling Georgian-controlled villages.

    There were no reports of casualties on either side.

    Utiashvili also denied a Russian media report quoting peacekeeping forces as saying that military jets had been spotted flying over South Ossetia.

    "The South Ossetian side is trying to create an illusion of serious escalation, an illusion of war, while in fact the situation  is quite calm in the conflict zone," he said.

    Russia's foreign ministry said it was holding an emergency meeting on the situation and urged calm from both sides.

    Children evacuated

    Hundreds of women and children have been evacuated from South Ossetia in the past week in preparation for a possible conflict, separatist officials have said.

    An evacuated South Ossetian girl
    arrives in Russia [AFP]
    Georgian officials have dismissed reports of an evacuation as propaganda, saying that children were being sent only to summer camps.

    Tensions over South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, have soared in recent months since Moscow said it was strengthening ties with the regions.

    Russia has given tacit support to the separatists, including granting citizenship to most of the region's residents.

    South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgian control during wars in the early 1990s that left thousands dead and forced tens of thousands from their homes.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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