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Saakashvili Vows to Regain Control over South Ossetia Amid Sporadic Shootouts in Breakaway Region
/ 10 Jul.'04 / 14:35
Civil Georgia

Three Georgian servicemen, from the internal troops unit, and one policeman were wounded On July 10 as a result of an overnight attack on the checkpoint at the Georgian village of Eredvi, in breakaway South Ossetia. A total of seven Georgian servicemen have already been wounded during sporadic shootouts, which have been occurring in the restive region since July 8.

Spokesperson for the South Ossetian de facto authorities Irina Gagloeva told the Russian Interfax news agency on July 10 that "several South Ossetians were wounded after an unidentified Georgian armed group attacked a checkpoint at the village of Pris."

However, the Georgian side denies this report. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on July 10 that Georgian soldiers stationed in the conflict zone as a part of a joint peacekeeping effort involving South Ossetia and Russia, are ordered not to use arms, in order "to avoid Georgia’s engagement in a large-scale armed conflict."

Mikheil Saakashvili, while addressing Georgian officers at their graduation from the Military Academy in Tbilisi on July 10, said that Georgia "will regain control over Tskhinvali [capital of breakaway South Ossetia] very soon… nothing can obstruct this process."

"However," he added, "we should be ready for everything."

President Saakashvili called on Russia to play a positive role in the resolution of the conflict. Saakashvili said that he has managed to establish "friendly relations" with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin; he did, however, add that certain "extremist forces in Russia" do not want peace in Georgia.

"Russian elements exist among the armed groups [loyal to the breakaway South Ossetian leadership]. In Vladikavkaz [capital of Russia’s North Ossetian Republic] certain forces try to recruit armed groups to join militias in South Ossetia. Ossetians are not our enemies, foreign aggressors are our enemies," President Saakashvili said.

But Russia continues to accuse the Georgian side of increasing the tensions in South Ossetia and of promoting the renewal of an armed conflict in the region. "Georgia dispatches its special purpose units to the administrative border with South Ossetia; sporadic shootouts occur in the conflict zone as well, this may lead to extremely negative consequences," reads a statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry on July 9.

Moscow called on the conflicting sides to resume negotiations in the frames of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission, involving the Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and North Ossetian sides.

The statement also says that Russia will protect its citizens living in Georgia’s breakaway region. "Russia is concerned over the fate of Russian citizens, who comprise an overwhelming majority of the South Ossetian population. We will protect their interests and security," the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement reads.

Russia is furious over the confiscation of its arms by Georgian forces in breakaway South Ossetia on July 7. Moscow categorical demands the Georgian authorities to return seized arms and two Russian trucks loaded with weapons which are being kept in Tbilisi.

International Efforts

Diplomatic efforts, involving the United States, Russia and Georgia were underway all throughout July 9 in efforts to defuse tensions in South Ossetia.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke with the Georgian President on July 9, in the wake of the Secretary of State’s phone conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

In a press release issued after the talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, "both [Powell and Lavrov] reiterated support towards preservation of Georgia’s territorial integrity and resolution of the crisis through peaceful means."

On July 8, the U.S. State Department condemned the detention of Georgian peacekeepers by the South Ossetian authorities. The Georgian soldiers were released on July 9; however three Georgians still remain in a Tskhinvali jail.

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana expressed concern on July 9 over the recent developments South Ossetia. He dispatched Heikki Talvitie, the EU envoy to the South Caucasus, to Tbilisi in order to establish contact with the Georgian authorities as well as with the OSCE.

According to a news release issued by the European Union on July 9 Solana and Talvite have been in close contact with the Georgian authorities.

President Saakashvili also spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on July 9 to discuss the South Ossetia crisis.

Earlier, Mikheil Saakashvili met Vladimir Putin on July 3 on the sidelines of an informal CIS summit in Moscow. After his arrival from Moscow, President Saakashvili said, "Tskhinvali should not hope for Russia’s support."

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