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Last updated: 03/11/10 at 06:46 PM
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Georgian State Minister for the Settlement of Conflicts Temur Iakobashvili is visiting the headquarters of the combined peacekeeping force in Tskhinvali. He plans to meet with South Ossetian officials, the Georgian media said.
Meanwhile, tensions have escalated near the village of Avnevi in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone.
South Ossetia is using firearms and mortars against the villages of Avnevi and Nuli, the Shida Kartli district administration told Interfax.
There is no information about possible Georgian casualties.
Russian Foreign Ministry's special envoy Yury Popov is currently having a meeting with Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili in Tbilisi.
"The parties are discussing the situation in the conflict zone in the Tskhinvali region and prospects for the meeting between Georgian and South Ossetian officials due in Tskhinvali on Thursday," a source at the State Minister's office told Interfax.
"The Joint Control Commission (JCC) should hold an urgent meeting," Popov told journalists before the meeting.
"All parties are responsible for the events in the region," he said about the situation in the conflict zone.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry began intensive consultations with foreign diplomats accredited in Tbilisi amid mounting tensions in South Ossetia on Thursday evening.
Deputy minister Grigol Vashadze has already met with U.K. Ambassador to Georgia Denis Keefe and the ambassadors of France, the Czech Republic and the European Commission.
He is currently meeting with diplomats from the "Group of Georgia's New Friends" (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic).
The Georgian attempt to shift the responsibility for the crisis in South Ossetia onto Russia are cynical, blasphemous and unfair, Russian State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said.
"There is an impression that emotions again prevail over wisdom in Georgia and important links of the peaceful settlement process go missing. This is the cause of the false accusations against Russia, of its alleged loss of the mediating role and cynical attempts to present us as the main culprit in the crisis," he said in response to an Interfax request to comment on Georgian statements.
"The accusations against Russia and its representatives are blasphemous and unfair," he said.
"Our peacekeepers remain the sole guarantors of peace and scrupulously fulfill their duties," Karasin said.
"Militant and curt statements have come from Tbilisi over the past few hours," he said. "They thoughtlessly accuse us of military propaganda and 'the actual control' over South Ossetia through 'certain officials.' The Georgian Foreign Ministry is trying to put the blame for the harmful events on Russia," Karasin said.
The only goal Russia has in that region is the end of violence, normalization and negotiations, he said.
"This is the mission of Joint Control Commission (JCC) Cochairman, Ambassador Yuri Popov, who is visiting the region," Karasin said.
A Georgian minister and a Russian envoy were "unable to come to mutual understanding" at a meeting on Thursday, at which they were looking for a way to defuse current tension between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia, the Russian envoy said.
"So far we have been unable to come to mutual understanding, and the Georgian side is still insisting on reforming the current format while we take the position that the negotiations should be part of the Joint Control Commission format, and so the issue remains suspended," Ambassador at Large Yury Popov told reporters after his meeting in Tbilisi with Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili.
The Joint Control Commission, which comprises officials from Georgia, South Ossetia, Russia and the Russian region of North Ossetia, is a body mediating in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict. Iakobashvili said the commission "is dead."
Popov said he was going to South Ossetia on Thursday, but that Iakobashvili would not go with him.
Iakobashvili, who was due to hold a meeting with South Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiyev on Thursday, said the South Ossetian government was refusing to negotiate with him but expressed hope that he would be able to hold talks with the region's authorities eventually.
"As for the Joint Control Commission, it is dead," Iakobashvili said.
Russia would bear responsibility for a possible failure of Georgian-South Ossetian negotiations planned for Thursday, said Georgian State Minister Temur Yakobashvili.
"We see attempts to disrupt the talks, and therefore the people who armed the separatists should also bear responsibility for everything that happens in the region," Yakobashvili said at a news briefing on Thursday.
"If the negotiations do not take place, we will address the role that Russia plays as a mediator, which is unable to seat the conflicting parties at the negotiating table," he said.
Yakobashvili said he had talked with Russian Special Ambassador Yury Popov, who had arrived earlier in Tbilisi.
Popov said upon arriving at the Tbilisi airport that he was not sure that a meeting between a Georgian and South Ossetian representatives scheduled for Thursday would in fact take place.
"I have arrived here for negotiations, but, as far as I know, South Ossetia doubts their appropriateness, considering the latest events. If this is so, I will conduct shuttle diplomacy in Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, which has already become traditional for me," Popov said.
South Ossetia supports efforts being made by Russian Special Ambassador Yury Popov to help overcome the latest outbreak of violence between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, but his presence in the conflict zone may be dangerous to him, said South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity.
"We support the efforts by Joint Control Commission Co-Chairman and Special Ambassador Yury Popov, who is in Tbilisi now, but, unfortunately, his arrival in Tskhinvali is unsafe for him because the city's southern outskirts are being shelled from the Georgian side," Kokoity said.
South Ossetia is willing to engage in a negotiating process in the Joint Control Commission four-sided format recognized by the international community, Kokoity said. "We are ready for negotiations, and now it is Georgia's turn to speak," he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has put the blame for the exacerbated situation in South Ossetia on Georgia and urged Tbilisi to stop military operations.
"We urge the Georgian administration to display common sense and stop irresponsible military activities in South Ossetia," State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in reply to an Interfax question. Karasin is the acting minister in the period of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's vacation.
"The responsibility for the new outbreak of tensions in the region rests upon the Georgian side," Karasin said.
Moscow called on Tbilisi "to display a reasonable and balanced attitude and to stop military preparations and the use of force," he said.
"We have to remind them again that it is impossible to resolve the South Ossetian problem with military methods. The Georgian administration must learn this axiom," Karasin said.
Only peace negotiations in the format of the Joint Control Commission, which have been disrupted through Georgia's actions, can bring positive results, he said.
"We have many times stressed the importance of binding agreements on the non-use of force. The absence of these agreements has given carte blanche to forces, which are trying to undermine the regional situation," he said.
The situation in South Ossetia "has reached a dangerous point," Karasin said.
"It is necessary to take immediate action in order to alleviate tensions," he concluded.
Russian Special Ambassador Yury Popov, a co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission for the settlement of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, is worried that a meeting between a Georgian and South Ossetian representatives planned for Thursday may not take place and he would have to conduct shuttle diplomacy instead.
"I have arrived here for negotiations, but, as far as I know, South Ossetia doubts their appropriateness following the latest events. If this is so, I will conduct shuttle diplomacy in Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, which has already become traditional for me," Popov said at the Tbilisi airport.
Temur Iakobashvili and Boris Chochiev, the chief Georgian and South Ossetian negotiators, respectively, will meet on August 8 in Tskhinvali, Yuri Popov, the chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia, said on Thursday.
“We managed to reach an agreement about holding a meeting tomorrow at 1pm through the mediation of the Russian Federation,” Interfax quoted Popov as saying.
He made his remarks after meeting Chochiev and Marat Kulakhmetov, the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces, in Tskhinvali.
Popov said meeting would not be held in the frames of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC).
A meeting between the Georgian and South Ossetian negotiators in the presence of Popov was initially scheduled for August 7 in Tskhinvali, but the South Ossetian side refused to take part, saying that it would agree to talks only in the frames of the JCC.
While the Russian diplomat said the meeting on August 8 would not be held in the frames of the JCC, he also said that the JCC remained the only effective format for negotiations.
The Russian negotiator said that the sides would discuss the current situation in the conflict zone and try to agree on a ceasefire.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Thursday he was prepared to enter into "any kind of talks," in order to find a solution to the current Georgian-South Ossetian conflict.
"I beg you [South Ossetians] to cease fire immediately. We have no wish to wage war against you. Don't try the patience of our country. Let's stop this escalation and start talks - direct, multilateral, any kind of talks," Saakashvili said in a televised address.
Sporadic shelling and skirmishes in and around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali have continued throughout the week. Six South Ossetians were killed and another 15 wounded in a Georgian attack on the night of August 2. Tskhinvali said 18 people were wounded in heavy shelling last night.
Georgia has also accused South Ossetia of attacks of border villages. (IMAGE GALLERIES)
"Let's give peace and dialogue a chance," said Saakashvili.
Saakashvili also invited Russia to play a key role in mediating peace between Georgia and South Ossetia.
"We need true mediators, and I invite Russia again to play a key role in [the Georgian-South Ossetian] conflict resolution," the Georgian president said, describing his country as Russia's natural ally.
"Any Georgian president...will always have to maintain good relations with Russia, provided Russia respects the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Saakashvili said.
Alexander Lomaya, who heads the Georgian National Security Council, said Saakashvili had also issued instructions for the country's armed forces not to return fire if they came under attack from South Ossetian forces.
"The decision was made despite the fact that a Georgian peacekeeper was recently killed during an escalation of violence in the conflict zone," Lomaya said.
A spokesman for the Georgian reintegration minister said on Thursday evening that a peacekeeper was killed and another four soldiers injured in an attack on a Georgian peacekeeping unit in the village of Avnevi, not far from the republic's capital of Tskhinvali.
Two people were also killed on Thursday as Georgia shelled the South Ossetian village of Tsunar, near Tskhinvali, a police officer said.
Lomaya failed to confirm however whether Tbilisi was deploying troops and military hardware in the conflict zone, saying only that Georgia was seeking a peaceful settlement.
After a meeting with the Russian peacekeeping commander, General Marat Kulakhmetov, in Tskhinvali earlier in the day, Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili reiterated that Georgia would like to avoid military clashes.
"We will temporarily and unilaterally cease fire in the conflict zone. This is our last attempt to avoid large-scale military operations," the minister said, without disclosing a timeframe for the ceasefire.
The minister confirmed Georgia's readiness to hold talks with South Ossetia.
Yury Popov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's envoy and a co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission (JCC), who visited Tskhinvali on Thursday, announced that Russia would mediate a meeting on Friday afternoon between Georgia's Yakobashvili and South Ossetia's Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiyev.
Arrangements have been made to hold the meeting at peacekeepers' headquarters in Tskhinvali.
South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway republic, Abkhazia, broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, gaining de facto independence after bloody conflicts with Tbilisi.
Georgia has pledged to bring the two tiny republics back under central control and has accused Russia of trying to annex the regions.
NATO and the EU Council of Ministers have called on all the sides in the conflict to avoid the use of force, to calm tensions, and seek a peaceful solution through negotiations.
President Saakashvili’s televised address on situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
Tbilisi, August 7
My dear fellow citizens!
I would like to address South Ossetia, I want to address all of Georgian society, all of our multi-ethnic Georgian society. I want to address ethnic Georgians and ethnic Ossetians, ethnic Russians and ethnic Jews, living in the conflict zone—all citizens of our country, regardless of their ethnicity.
My dear fellow citizens!
The situation in and around Tskhinvali has just worsened. In recent days, the permanent provocations, violations, murders, and other offenses to which we have become accustomed now have escalated dangerously and threaten the peace.
I myself do not understand why the separatists became so aggressive exactly at this time. First, they attacked several times the Head of the Provisional Administration of South Ossetia, Dimitry Sanakoev, who was one of the former separatist leaders and who opted for peace. Then, they began attacking Georgian police, peacekeeping posts, and mobile patrols. During the last few days, they undertook large scale attacks and are continuing to attack peaceful civilians in villages.
Sniper assaults on civilians in [Georgian] villages are still underway.
Even at this moment, as I speak to you, intensive fire is ongoing from artillery, from tanks, from self-propelled artillery systems – which have been brought in the conflict zone illegally – and from other types of weaponry, including from mortars and grenade launchers.
We have been in constant contacts with the leadership of the local Russian peacekeeping forces.Several hours ago, they told us that they have completely lost control over the actions of the separatists.
I dispatched to Tskhinvali Mr. Temur Iakobashvili—the State Minister for Reintegration and the Special Representative of the President in the negotiating process—in order to conduct direct talks regarding a ceasefire.
The separatists refused to meet him and he had to return from Tskhinvali empty-handed.
We are in constant contact with the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry tells us Russia is trying to stop the separatists from engaging in armed action, but without any success.
I would like to directly address those people who are at this moment shooting peaceful civilians and Georgian police forces.
You have been shooting during the last several days and especially in the last several hours.
I want to declare with full responsibility and confess that several hours ago, in my capacity as Commander in Chief of Georgia, I issued a very painful order directing all Georgian police forces and other units under our control not to return fire, even if they face intensive bombing.
I did it deliberately
However, I would like to state that in the hours since, during which time our forces and civilians have fallen victim—there are many casualties, both dead and many wounded, many houses have been destroyed and damaged - I did this deliberately in order to have the possibility to stand before you and call for an immediate ceasefire and immediate negotiations.
I continue to support the peace plan for South Ossetia that I introduced three years ago, a plan that has been developed over the course of many years. It includes practicaly unrestricted autonomy and local governance for South Ossetia, special safeguards for the human rights of every ethnic Ossetian, autonomy under international guarantees, an autonomous structure created according to EU standards.
I have been proposing and I am proposing Russia act as a guarantor of South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia.
I act with full responsibility, so that Russia, Georgia, and European countries can participate in the peacekeeping process. The local population must feel that they are defended by the international community, by people who deserve their trust.
I want to say, that despite the fact that many people have been killed and robbed, have had their possessions absolutely destroyed, we are offering full amnesty to everyone who has committed such criminal acts punishable under Georgian law, if they immediately cease fire. I am willing to take even such a consequential step. The Georgian government is ready to forgive the crimes committed in recent years in order to secure peace, to continue the peacekeeping process and negotiations.
We offer all of you partnership and friendship, despite your violations against Georgian state and the local population, no matter what acts you committed, acts that are punishable under Georgian and international laws. Because peace is a greater value, more vital than anything else. We are ready for any sort of agreement in the interest of peace.
But I once again would like to address you.
My dear people, my dear fellow citizens!
I love Ossetians as a President and as a ordinary citizen of this country.
I admire and respect Ossetian history and culture.
Every ethnic Ossetian has been an inseparable part of Georgian history for centuries.
We are proud of you and our unity. Georgia is strong for its diversity. Georgia has never been and will never be a mono-ethnic country. Georgia belongs to all of us regardless of our ethnicity.
Let’s take care of our country together. Let’s together avoid the violence. Let’s work together for a better future. Let’s forget everything negative that has happened in the past and let’s together think about our common future.
I would like to address the international community. Nobody should try to present the Georgian government as a supporter of any kind of violence. For so many days, we have been reaching out to our partners—today we have spoken to several world leaders—to help us stop the escalation of violence. We ask that you help us conduct direct negotiations, to guarantee the autonomous status of South Ossetia, and to internationalize the peace process. We also ask for your assistance in holding a more results-oriented dialogue.
We are doing everything to avoid escalation of the violence.
I would like to address the Russian Federation as well.
Georgia is a natural ally of Russia.
Any president of Georgia—and myself above all, since I know well what Russia means for Georgia—will always be committed to good relations with Russia, assuming that Russia respects the territorial integrity of Georgia, the sovereignty of Georgia, and the inviolability of the state borders of Georgia.
In recent years, South Ossetia, for all intents and purposes, is directly administered by the Russian Federation.
There are ministers in the separatist government in Tskhinvali, for instance, who also are officials of the Russian government and who have been sent to South Ossetia on mission.
I request from Russia and the separatists to pull these ministers out; they have nothing to do in South Ossetia; they do not contribute to the historic friendship between Georgians and South Ossetians. To the contrary: They hamper the restoration of our traditional allied relations.
We need true mediators, and we offer the Russian Federation an important role in resolving this conflict.
We can accomplish many things together. But for now, we must return to the situation as it stands today.
Georgia is undertaking an immediate, unilateral cease fire. We do not have the will to respond to violence with yet more violence.
We have been tolerating this for so many years. We have not responded to so many provocations throughout the years, to countless violations. No other state would have shown such restraint. Please, do not test the Georgian state’s patience. Because this is your country, which is willing to defend each of you.
Let’s stop this spiral of violence. I address everyone: Let’s do everything to stop the escalation—today, tomorrow, or the day after—and return to the negotiating table. Let’s use every possible format—direct, multilateral, and other formats—to overcome this absolutely critical situation, to come out of this unacceptable deadlock in which we all find ourselves.
My dear people!
I rely on your wisdom, on your historical experience, that lies in our shared past and in our genes.
This is the Caucasus, where violence harms everyone.
Let’s give peace and dialogue a chance.
I really believe in you!
Georgia and South Ossetian separatists agreed on a truce in the troubled province until they hold Russian-mediated talks, Interfax news agency quoted the head of Russian peacekeepers in the region as saying.
Interfax quoted Marat Kulakhmetov as saying that shelling, blamed by both sides on each other, had ceased in the past four hours. Kulakhmetov said Georgian statements earlier on Thursday were part of the deal.
Earlier, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili offered the separatists an immediate ceasefire after several days of clashes which aroused fears of all-out war and said he had ordered government forces not to return fire.
A senior Georgian official said in Tbilisi the fighting had stopped. However, he added there had been no formal agreement between the two sides.
Georgia has decided to “unilaterally cease fire” in a sign of its willingness to defuse tensions, Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said at a press conference in Tbilisi at 6:40pm local time.
“We have decided not to return fire for a certain period of time. This move is yet another attempt by us to convince the separatists that a military confrontation is pointless,” Iakobashvili said. “Military confrontation may lead to many casualties, so we are ready to hold talks and defuse tensions.”
“We are unilaterally ceasing fire, but we are doing it not because we are afraid of anyone, but because we want peace. We hope that this message will be properly received by them [the South Ossetian side], and that they will stop shelling our civilian population.”
Iakobashvili also said that the decision was taken by the Georgian side after he had met Marat Kulakhmetov, the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces, in Tskhinvali this evening.
Iakobashvili said that he had been unable to get in touch with Boris Chochiev, the chief South Ossetian negotiator. “He is not responding,” Iakobashvili said. “And Kokoity [the South Ossetian secessionist leader] is not in Tskhinvali.”
Residents are reportedly fleeing South Ossetian cities and villages as Georgian shells continue to rain in. South Ossetian officials say the artillery fire is coming from Georgian villages on the border. They say a full-scale military attack is under way and that more Georgian troops and tanks are on their way.
South Ossetian Security Council’s Secretary, Anatoly Barankevich said that the Georgian President promised to show ‘maximum restraint’.
“But his words once again have proved to be lies. Under the cover of these announcements a large amount of armed vehicles are approaching including tanks and more than a thousand troops,” Barankevich said.
He also said that one Ossetian village “has been under heavy shelling for several hours” and parts of it are on fire.
“This all shows that a massive aggression against the South Ossetian Republic is beginning,” he said.
Earlier, four people were reported to have been killed and more than two dozen injured in artillery exchanges.
After a night of gunfire, the shelling resumed at daybreak. Residents are on the move, evacuating vulnerable areas of the South Ossetian capital.
Authorities in the breakaway region say the bombardment started in Georgian-controlled areas over the border, and they were forced to return fire.
The republic’s President, Eduard Kokoity, says his forces are acting in self defence: “South Ossetia stopped shooting for 40 minutes and Russian peacekeepers attempted to convince Georgia to stop firing. Yet they continue the shooting using heavy artillery and grenades. We opened fire in response,” he said.
Hospitals in South Ossetia began filling up with casualties overnight.
Fourteen people received treatment, ten civilians and four military officials.
Georgia is reporting casualties too, accusing South Ossetia of shelling civilian settlements in the border region.
Georgia's Reintegration Minister, Temur Yakobashvili, insists South Ossetia started the latest spat: “The secessionist side decided Georgians were trying to occupy the hills, which doesn't correspond to reality. And based on that false information they started to attack Georgian civilian villages,” he said.
The Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has called for an end to the violence, saying he is ready for negotiations with the breakaway region. He accuses South Ossetia of stirring up violence and thwarting the talks.
"We must use joint efforts to end this madness,” he said.
“I have ordered my representative in the negotiations to meet with representatives from the Russian side both in Tbilisi and the area of conflict. We must find ways to avoid similar excesses of violence and danger to the population. We will use maximum restraint, but I don't recommend anyone continues to provoke us," Saakashvili said.
Russia has expressed deep concern about the outbreak of shelling.
The latest reports say Georgia is moving a large contingent of troops to the border region - a move Moscow says could mean its preparing for war.
The Russian government has sent envoys to the region, who along with its permanent peacekeepers there, are pushing for negotiations between the two sides.
South Ossetia has been controlled by an unrecognised separatist government since the end of a war with Georgia in the early 1990s.
Tensions in the region have soared in recent months and outbreaks of violence have become increasingly frequent in the border regions.
Georgia says its an internal affair that can be resolved without outside interference.
But Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned that in the event of an escalation in violence, it will move to defend a region where most residents hold Russian passports.
Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said he met with Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces, in Tskhinvali on August 7.
“[The South Ossetian] separatists have again refused to hold a meeting; negotiations is the only way out of this situation. Kulakhmetov also pointed out that there is no alternative to negotiations. We are still trying to arrange a meeting [with the South Ossetian side] if not for today at least for tomorrow,” Iakobashvili told journalists.
He said that the situation in Tskhinvali was “very grave.” “No people are seen on the streets,” Iakobashvili added.
Georgian television reported on August 7 that women and children were being evacuated from Georgian villages close to the breakaway South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. Meanwhile, reports from both sides say that heavy fighting is ongoing in areas close to the Georgian village of Avnevi and the Ossetian village of Khetagurov in the Znauri district, south-west of Tskhinvali. “We can hear blasts and gunfire for three hours,” a reporter of the Georgian Public Broadcaster said, while speaking from a Georgian village close to the breakaway region’s border, in the 6pm news bulletin.
Three Georgian servicemen were injured after South Ossetian militiamen blew up an infantry combat vehicle belonging to the Georgian peacekeeping battalion, the Interior Ministry said on August 7.
“The incident occurred in the village of Avnevi,” Shota Utiashvili, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman, told Civil.Ge. “The Georgian infantry combat vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade fired by the South Ossetian separatists.”
The South Ossetian secessionist authorities claimed on August 6 that their militias had blown up a Georgian armored personnel carrier, but the report was denied both by Tbilisi and the Russian peacekeeping forces.
Chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia Yuri Popov said no agreement had been reached with Tbilisi over the format talks on South Ossetia should take.
Popov told Rustavi 2 TV after meeting with Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration and chief negotiator: “We have not yet found understanding over the matter.”
“Mr. Iakobashvili insists on reforming the existing negotiating format and we insist on maintaining it,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special ambassador, Yuri Popov, said.
Moscow and Tskhinvali want to resume talks in the frames of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC).
Iakobashvili, however, told Rustavi 2 TV after meeting with the Russian negotiator in Tbilisi: “the JCC is dead.”
There seemed to have been preliminary agreement between the sides to hold a meeting between Iakobashvili and the South Ossetian chief negotiator, Boris Chochiev, in the presence of Popov in Tskhinvali on August 7, without the participation of a representative from Russia’s North Ossetian Republic.
The South Ossetian side initially rejected this format, but then said it would participate in talks. On August 6, Tskhinvali, however, again changed its position and said it would agree to a meeting only in the frames of the JCC.
Iakobashvili said late on August 6 that he believed Russia “currently is really interested" in having talks. He said Russia was even ready to facilitate direct talks between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali outside of the JCC, at least for now.
At about 3pm local time Iakobashvili’s press office issued a press release saying that the proposed meeting in Tskhinvali had been abandoned.
It also said that Iakobashvili intended to visit Georgian villages in the conflict zone on August 7. The state minister is expected to meet Dimitry Sanakoev, the head of the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian provisional administration, whom Moscow and Tskhinvali denounce as Tbilisi’s “puppet.”
Bishop George, head of the recently formed Alania diocese in South Ossetia, has called on people to protect their families and friends.
"We have once again experienced 'care' of Georgia - never-ending humiliation, insults, slander, terrorist acts and gunfire at civilians. Georgia has shown such 'love and care' for our people for the past 18 years," says the appeal posted on the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee website on Thursday.
The bishop urged South Ossetians "to give full backing to those who protect their homes, children, wives, parents and friends and to serve the people and the fatherland with any possible talents and capabilities."
Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, spoke with President Saakashvili by phone to discuss the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
“High Representative Solana expressed his serious concern about the situation in South Ossetia and called for every effort to be made to rapidly end the violence and resume peaceful talks between the sides,” Solana’s press office said.
From: PRESSE CABINET
the telephone call took place at midday.
Georgia is reportedly moving tanks, artillery and troops to the border with its breakaway republic of South Ossetia. It follows days of shelling and skirmishes between the sides. Russia is leading diplomatic efforts to stop a full-scale conflict.
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said military scouts have detected about 20 tanks and a large number of other guns near the border.
Early on Thursday, he said, Georgia shelled the South Ossetian villages of Pris, Dmenis, and Sarabuk using artillery guns.
"The shelling caused very significant damages in Dmenis, and a number of civilians have been wounded," Kokoity said.
There was a 40-minute lull in the violence after Russian peacekeepers intervened. However, the two sides continued to exchange fire later.
Meanwhile, the command of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone is holding ceasefire negotiations with the parties.
Vladimir Ivanov, aide to the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces, said everything possible was being done to end the fighting.
"The command of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces is working with the parties to the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict with the aim of relieving tensions and preventing the firing," Ivanov said.
Ivanov added that the situation is currently calm in the conflict zone, and no gunfire is being observed.
Authorities of breakaway South Ossetia said number of injured persons as a result of overnight and early morning intensive fire increased to eighteen on its side.
And the Georgian Interior Ministry said two from the Georgian battalion of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces were injured after the Georgian villages of Eredvi, Prisi, Avnevi, Dvani and Nuli came under mortar fire late on August 6.
The South Ossetian side reported that 18 persons, including one 88-year-old man and four women, were injured after the Ossetian villages of Khetagurov, Dmenisi, Sarabuki, and Ubiat, as well as the outskirts of the capital Tskhinvali, came under “massive shelling.” Initially the South Ossetian side said early on August 7, that six persons were injured.
The South Ossetian side has also claimed that the shootout resumed in the region at about 10am local time on August 7. It said that the South Ossetian village of Ubiat in the Znauri district came under fire.
Georgia's interior ministry on Thursday said "large-scale battles" were underway in the breakaway region of South Ossetia and confirmed that rebels had destroyed a Georgian armoured personnel carrier.
"Currently large-scale battles are underway near the village of Avnevi," ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP, referring to a Georgian-controlled village in South Ossetia.
"A Georgian armoured personnel carrier was destroyed by South Ossetian militants near the village of Avnevi one hour ago and three Georgian peacekeepers were wounded as a result," he said.
The statement was a rare confirmation by Georgia of a significant loss to the rebels.
Earlier, South Ossetian authorities said 18 people had been wounded by Georgian fire overnight, while a Georgian government spokeswoman told AFP that two Georgian servicemen had been hurt in attacks by separatists.
Russian news agencies said renewed artillery fire was heard in Tskhinvali on Thursday afternoon.
Tensions have soared in South Ossetia since the rebels reported that six people had died in weekend shooting.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in a statement Thursday accused Georgia of "military preparations" close to the separatist capital of Tskhinvali.
The head of South Ossetia's Security Council Anatoly Barankevich on Thursday told Russian television that his forces had registered the "movement of heavy weaponry from the depths of Georgia to South Ossetia."
Moscow and Tbilisi have sparred repeatedly over South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, in recent months since Moscow announced it was boosting ties with the separatists.
Georgia's pro-Western government accuses Moscow of seeking to annex the two regions and derail its efforts to join the NATO military alliance, which Russia vehemently opposes.
South Ossetia's leader said on Thursday the breakaway republic will attack Georgian troops if they continue to shell Tskhinvali and nearby villages or attempt to seize its territory. (PHOTO)
The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia intensified last Friday night when Georgian forces shelled the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, leaving six South Ossetians dead and another 15 wounded. Sporadic shelling and skirmishes have continued through the week.
"We are prepared to end [Georgian] attempts to annex our territory," Eduard Kokoity told reporters. "If the shelling does not stop ... we will start 'to mop up' plateaus where Georgian troops are stationed."
He said retaliatory attacks could be launched as early as this afternoon.
Kokoity said Georgia had amassed most of its heavy weaponry in the conflict zone and attempted to seize high ground over a strategically important road overnight.
"Our intelligence spotted a convoy of at least 20 tanks and a large number of self-propelled artillery," he said, adding that at least 26 152-mm howitzers had been deployed earlier by Georgia near Tskhinvali and had been fired at South Ossetian territory.
Meanwhile, Georgian Interior Ministry reported on Thursday that South Ossetia had continued to shell five Georgian villages overnight wounding at least two Georgian police officers and damaging houses and military infrastructure.
Both sides repeatedly stated they were ready for talks under the established four-party format, which consists of negotiators from Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and Russia's North Ossetia region. However, the escalating violence in the conflict zone makes this prospect unlikely.
Georgia has earlier dismissed widespread fears that war will break out in the region, and accused South Ossetia and Russia, which tacitly supports the province, of attempts to rekindle the frozen conflict.
South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway republic, Abkhazia, broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, gaining de facto independence after bloody conflicts with Tbilisi.
Irrigation water from the Tirifon- Satvisi water collector was cut off from 50 Georgian villages in the Gori, Kaspi and Kareli districts early on Wednesday, the Shida Kartli regional administration told Interfax.
The water was cut off by South Ossetia, they claimed.
South Ossetia had blamed the Georgian side for having seriously reduced drinking water supplies to Tskhinvali via the Zedisi pipeline across Georgian villages in the region, where drinking water was allegedly tapped to water the fields, they added.
The drinking water is not being siphoned off, the Shida Kartli official said.
The Georgian authorities argued that reduced drinking water supplies to Tskhinvali were due to high temperatures and the dropping river levels, and also because the Zedisi pipeline is being repaired by the Tskhinvali authorities.
Meanwhile, South Ossetia reported on August 3 that water was no longer reaching Tskhinvali, because it was being siphoned off on the 9-kilometer long run between the Georgian villages of Kekhvi and Tamarasheni.
According to reports coming from South Ossetia, tank trucks are being used to provide Tskhinvali residents with drinking water.
A reported Georgian-South Ossetian battle that broke out near the village of Nul in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region on Thursday is over, the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in South Ossetia said.
"Both sides have creased fire. The situation is under the control of the peacekeepers," Maj. Gen. Marat Kulakhmetov told Interfax- AVN.
Earlier, a South Ossetian government spokeswoman said a fierce battle was in progress near Nul, "in the course of which South Ossetian units are trying to oust a Georgian special forces company from the nearby heights."
"We have information that two Georgian APCs [armored personnel carriers] have been blown up," Irina Gagloyeva told Interfax.
"In order to thwart assistance from the South Ossetian village of Tsunar, the Georgian side has opened heavy fire on that village," Gagloyeva said.
Before that, top South Ossetian security officials held a conference at which they told South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity that two Georgian infantry platoons equipped with an armored infantry fighting vehicle had been seen taking up positions on one of the heights and trying to block off a road in the Znauri district.
"I have decided that, in case this information is confirmed, this firing position must be destroyed as they are practically completely blockading the Znauri district and the road is open to fire," Kokoity said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has urged the sides to the Georgia-Ossetian conflict to take prompt measures to ease tension in the region.
"Immediate measures are required to scale down the armed confrontation of the sides," Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Boris Malakhov said to Interfax on Wednesday.
"The situation is complex but there is no reason to panic," he added.
"In these circumstances Russia is acting as an open responsible mediator that is trying to achieve the reduction of tension and the resumption of the negotiating process with the purpose of conflict settlement," Malakhov said.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that the ministry was currently holding a conference discussing the current outbreak of fighting between Georgia and its breakaway South Ossetia region.
Yury Popov, the Russian co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission, a body mediating in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, "is leaving for Tbilisi on Wednesday night to investigate the situation," the spokesman, Boris Malakhov, told Interfax.
Russia is “a constructive and responsible mediator,” engaged in efforts to help defuse tensions in South Ossetia, Boris Malakhov, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Itar-Tass news agency on August 6.
“Russian Deputy Foreign Ministry Grigory Karasin spoke with the president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, and with the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces, Marat Kulakhmetov,” Malakhov said. “We are also in contact with the Georgian side.”
“The current situation in South Ossetia is uneasy and it needs measures to lessen [the possibility of] confrontation,” he added.
Interfax news agency reported earlier on August 6 that “an emergency meeting” had been held in the Russian Foreign Ministry over the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
A Georgian Interior Ministry official has denied South Ossetian reports that a Georgian armored personnel carrier (APC) was destroyed, dismissing the reports as “utter nonsense.”
The report has also been denied by the commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in the region, Marat Kulakhmetov.
The authorities in breakaway South Ossetia have claimed that their forces destroyed a Georgian APC in a clash close to the village of Nuli on August 6.
“We have destroyed a Georgian APC which was targeting Ossetian villages,” the breakaway region’s Defense Ministry said in a statement posted on the South Ossetian Press and Information website. “Shooting has now ceased. There are no casualties on the South Ossetian side.”
It also claimed that South Ossetian forces had recaptured the heights close to Nuli village overlooking a Ossetian-controlled road linking Tskhinvali to Ossetian villages in the Znauri district, by-passing Georgian-controlled areas.
Marat Kulakhmetov, the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone, however, told Interfax news agency: “No APCs have been blown up.”
Shota Utiashvili, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman, dismissed the report as “fiction.” He denied that there had been a major clash close to Nuli, although he acknowledged that brief shooting had taken place.
“Since August 2 not a single major clash has occurred in the region; there has been some minor shooting, but no major clashes,” he told Civil.Ge. “It seems that the Russian media and the secessionist authorities are trying to create a virtual reality and the illusion of war, as if something huge is happening there.”
He said the August 5 Interior Ministry organized tour for foreign diplomats and journalists in Georgian-controlled areas of the breakaway region had proven that Georgia was not engaged in a military build-up.
In another shift in position, the South Ossetian side refused to participate in talks planned for August 7.
“There will be no bilateral meeting on Thursday [August 7],” Eduard Kokoity, the secessionist leader, told Interfax news agency on August 6. “We are ready to hold talks in Tskhinvali, but only in the framework of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission.”
And Boris Chochiev, the chief South Ossetian negotiator, said on August 6: “A bilateral meeting will bring no results.”
He told Rustavi 2 TV by phone that the South Ossetian side had proposed holding a JCC session with the participation of Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian negotiators in Tskhinvali on August 9. Tbilisi has consistently refused to participate in JCC talks.
Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration and chief negotiator over conflicts, said on August 5 that a meeting between him and Boris Chochiev in the presence of chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia Yuri Popov had already been agreed.
Popov has also confirmed that the sides were due to meet in Tskhinvali on August 7 in his presence. No representative from Russia’s North Ossetian Republic has been invited.
Late on August 5 the South Ossetian side denied a meeting had been arranged and said it would only agree to meet in frames of the JCC.
Early on August 6 the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee posted on its website remarks by Boris Chochiev, saying that the South Ossetian side had agreed to a meeting in Tskhinvali on August 7. He said it would be “a consultative meeting” in order to prepare for a JCC session.
The leader of Georgia's rebel province of South Ossetia said on Wednesday that Georgia is planning a full-scale invasion of the region before the start of September. (PHOTO)
South Ossetia said earlier today that Georgian troops had opened fire on two villages in the separatist province, while Russian peacekeepers said eight Georgian warplanes had flown into the region during the morning. Georgia has denied both allegations, and says the situation on the ground is calm.
Eduard Kokoity told British Ambassador to Georgia Denis Keefe: "We have indisputable evidence that a large-scale military operation will start here by September. This is Georgia's plan currently being implemented by [President Mikheil] Saakashvili's regime."
The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia intensified last Friday night when Georgian forces shelled the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, leaving six South Ossetians dead and another 15 wounded. The province has evacuated hundreds of women and children to Russia in the past week.
Kokoity said Georgian authorities have been issuing warnings to residents of Georgian villages in South Ossetia that Tbilisi will seize the areas by September. However, he said 'volunteers' from abroad will flood into South Ossetia and defend the province in the event of an all-out Georgian attack.
Georgia has dismissed widespread fears that war will break out in the region, and says South Ossetia and Russia, which tacitly supports the province, are both trying to create a false impression of escalating violence.
A top peacekeeping official from the separatist province said on Wednesday that he will refuse to attend a bilateral meeting with a Georgian minister that had been scheduled for Thursday.
Boris Chochiyev, who co-chairs the Joint Control Commission for Georgian-Ossetian Conflict Resolution, a multilateral peacekeeping force, said he would not meet with Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili, but proposed that the commission hold a session on Friday involving all members - Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and the Russian province of North Ossetia.
Georgia has rejected the Joint Control Commission as "outdated," and says the commission favors the South Ossetian leadership.
South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway republic, Abkhazia, broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, gaining de facto independence after bloody conflicts with Tbilisi.
An intensive exchange of fire broke in the South Ossetian conflict zone, the secessionist authorities and Russian peacekeepers said.
The Georgian side has also confirmed the shooting incident, but said the incident was already resolved.
The South Ossetian side has claimed that the Georgian forces opened fire in direction of the Khetagurov village in the south-west from Tskhinvali.
An aide to the commander of the Russian peacekeeping troops in the region, Vladimir Ivanov, told Interfax news agency that the shootout started at about 4:30pm local time on August 6.
“A massive fire broke out between the Georgian and Ossetian sides in the vicinity of the villages of Avnevi and Khetagurov,” he said.
Shota Utiashvili, the Georgian interior ministry’s spokesman, however, said that the South Ossetian side opened fire first in direction of the Georgian villages of Avnevi, Nuli and Dvani.
“Grenade launchers were mainly used,” he told Civil.Ge. “We have notified the peacekeeping forces and warned them to take measures and after that shooting were ceased... No one is injured.”
Earlier on August 6, the South Ossetian side reported that its posts were attacked by the Georgian forces by the noon when they allegedly tried to take over the strategic height close to the Nuli village. The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, however, rejected that report.
Eduard Kokoity, the South Ossetian secessionist leader, told Interfax in the evening on August 6, that the South Ossetian side “forced the Georgian forces out from that height” by 6pm local time.
“The Georgian special purpose unit was forced to quit the height and now we control it,” he said.
The so called Nuli heights are overlooking a by-pass road controlled by the South Ossetian side, which links Tskhinvali with the Ossetian villages in the Znauri district in west and south-west from Tskhinvali.
Georgia's Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili confirmed Wednesday that his country would hold direct talks Thursday with its rebel republic of South Ossetia.
The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia intensified last Friday night into Saturday as Georgian forces shelled the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, leaving six South Ossetians killed and another 15 wounded.
"The arranged meeting will take place on August 7, and it will not be held within the Joint Control Commission," Yakobashvili said. "This will be a bilateral meeting, as we have insisted, that will involve Russians only because it will be held at the peacekeepers' headquarters in Tskhinvali."
The minister said Georgia would discuss finding a way out of the standoff.
"We should discuss how to put an end to all this," Yakobashvili said.
Tskhinvali has also confirmed the possibility of holding conflict settlement talks with Georgia, the South Ossetian information and press committee said.
Yury Popov, a Russian co-chairman of the JCC, said earlier Russia had initiated a meeting to arrange the start of negotiations within the JCC's internationally recognized status. He said the meeting would also involve the Georgian president's envoy for conflict settlement Yakobashili and South-Ossetian co-chairman of the JCC Boris Chochiyev.
Chochiyev said the South Ossetian government was currently considering the Russian proposal.
Georgia rejects the JCC as "outdated," believing that the balance of the commission is weighted in favor of the South Ossetian leadership.
The breakaway republic's Interior Ministry said the situation in the conflict zone remained tense. Georgia is reported to have opened sniper and mortar fire at 11:00 a.m. local time (07:00 GMT).
South Ossetia's Defense Ministry said Georgian units had been attempting to take the Nuli village to gain control of the Znauri road and adjacent South Ossetian villages, while the Interior Ministry said Georgia had shelled police outposts in Sarabuk and the southern outskirts of the capital Tuesday night.
Tskhinvali vowed to bring an end to the Georgian shelling.
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity has issued instructions to have South Ossetians living in Russia enlisted in the rebel republic's Interior Ministry troops. His interior minister said 536 troops were needed.
A spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service's border department in the Southern Federal District said the influx of South Ossetians had subsided.
The chief Russian negotiator on S.Ossetia confirmed that a meeting between the sides had been arranged for August 7 in Tskhinvali.
Yuri Popov, a Russian Foreign Ministry special ambassador, told Itar-Tass news agency on August 5 that he will also be present at the meeting between Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, and Boris Chochiev, the breakaway region’s deputy prime minister and chief negotiator.
“We hope the sides manage to find compromise decisions that will help in defusing tensions in the region,” he was quoted as saying.
Authorities in breakaway South Ossetia retracted their initial refusal to take part in talks in the frames of the proposed format and said on August 6 that “the consultative meeting may take place.”
The South Ossetian side said on August 5 that it would only participate in a JCC meeting, which would entail the involvement of the North Ossetian side as well. It, however, said on August 6 that a meeting between the Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian negotiators might take place.
“The South Ossetian side has been informed by Yuri Popov, the Russian co-chairman of the JCC, about the proposal to hold a preparatory-consultative meeting on resuming talks in the frames of the internationally recognized negotiating body – the Joint Control Commission,” the statement posted on the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee reads.
The wording of the statement, in particular the suggestion that the meeting is being held in order to prepare a JCC session, seems to be a face-saving move by Tskhinvali, as it has consistently insisted it would only negotiate within a JCC format.
The planned talks were initially announced by Iakobashvili on August 5. He said that the Russian diplomat would have “the status of observer” at the proposed meeting and there would be no representative from Russia’s North Ossetian Republic. North Ossetia's involvement would effectively have meant the sides were meeting under the JCC aegis. Tbilisi has been boycotting the JCC for some time, claiming it is Russian dominated and insisting on its replacement.
“I want to reiterate that it will not be in the framework of the Joint Control Commission; it will be bilateral talks in the presence of the Russian side,” he said, adding that Tbilisi would never again take part in talks in the framework of the JCC.
Iakobashvili also said later on August 5 that he did not expect any major breakthrough from the planned meeting; he, however, added: “having negotiations is much better than shooting.”
Speaking on Tbilisi-based Kavkasia TV, he said economic cooperation and demilitarization of the region should be priorities, adding that the Georgian government was considering offering Tskhinvali the creation of “some kind of limited free economic zone.”
Georgia on Tuesday denied preparing for war in its breakaway South Ossetia region following deadly weekend clashes that have raised fears of a new war in the Caucasus.
Russia said it would not be indifferent if there was further violence on its border, escalating a war of words in a region where Moscow and the West are vying for influence over vital energy transit routes.
"If events develop according to the worst-case violence scenario, Russia will not allow itself to remain indifferent, considering that Russian citizens live in South Ossetia, particularly in the conflict zone," Interfax news agency quoted Russian special ambassador Yuri Popov as saying.
But Georgia rejected accusations of indiscriminate shelling of Ossetian-held areas over the weekend, and denied it was preparing for conflict.
"We are not mobilizing forces, we are not getting ready for war," deputy Interior Minister Ekaterine Zguladze told Reuters in the Georgian-held village of Avnevi in South Ossetia.
"There is no military build-up whatsoever on the Georgian side," said Zguladze. NATO said on Tuesday it was "not aware of any troop concentrations by Georgia in or near South Ossetia."
South Ossetia and Georgia's Black Sea region of Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after fighting wars against Tbilisi in the 1990s. Both have financial and political support from Moscow and the vast majority of locals have Russian citizenship.
But the frozen conflicts are fast beginning to thaw, particularly since pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili took power in 2003 and angered Russia by pledging to steer ex-Soviet Georgia towards membership of NATO.
"SPIRAL OUT OF CONTROL"
Georgia is at the heart of the Caucasus, an unstable region hosting the only pipelines pumping gas and oil from the Caspian Sea to world markets without going through Russia.
South Ossetia is a mosaic of separatist-controlled territories centered on the regional capital Tskhinvali and Georgian-populated villages loyal to Tbilisi scattered across the province. Russia has peacekeepers in the area.
Georgian authorities on Tuesday bussed foreign diplomats and media through hardscrabble Georgian villages skirting Tskhinvali to show pockmarked walls and collapsed roofs from what they said was unprovoked shelling by Ossetian forces.
Six people died on the Ossetian side, and Georgia and South Ossetia have been trading blame ever since.
Tbilisi accused Moscow of "deliberate support for separatist regimes on Georgian land." The Russian peacekeepers, it said, were propping up the South Ossetians.
"The Russian Federation is carrying out on Georgian land an aggression and actions that violate Georgia's sovereignty," the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
It said Tbilisi remained committed to peace talks, which are currently deadlocked.
In Washington, the State Department warned against provocative actions by any of the parties.
"It is important for us that, number one, that the violence stops and, number two, that a dialogue begins and so that they can continue to discuss the issues there," spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.
NATO said it was following the situation, but that it was not aware of any troop build-up by its ally Georgia.
"We call on all parties to de-escalate the tensions," said alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero. EU president France called for the "swift resumption" of negotiations.
Popov, who heads Russia's delegation to a joint commission trying to resolve the conflict, said senior officials from both sides were due to meet on Thursday.
"I don't want to make any grim predictions, but if such events are repeated, the situation may spiral out of control and lead to sad consequences," he said.
Georgian and South Ossetian officials have agreed to hold direct talks for the first time in a decade this week amid mounting tensions in the rebel region, a Georgian official said Tuesday.
South Ossetia's rebel government denied agreeing to the talks in a statement of its website, but a senior Russian official confirmed the discussions were to take place on Thursday.
Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili told AFP he would meet on August 7 with senior South Ossetian officials in the rebel capital Tskhinvali.
He said the landmark talks, the first direct bilateral contact between the two sides for at least a decade, "could mark a breakthrough in resolving the conflict."
Russia's negotiator on South Ossetia, ambassador-at-large Yury Popov, also told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the talks would take place, adding that Russia would take part.
"We hope the sides will manage to find compromise decisions that will promote the removal of tensions in the region," he was quoted as saying.
Georgia's foreign ministry also said Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze would meet Russian counterpart Grigory Karasin in Moscow later this week to discuss the situation in South Ossetia.
The reports came after a top Russian diplomat warned Moscow would defend Russian citizens living in South Ossetia and a South Ossetian official said militias in the region were preparing for war, Russian media reports said.
South Ossetia has evacuated hundreds of women and children to Russia over the past few days after six people were killed on Friday by sniper and mortar fire from Georgian positions, the rebel province's government said.
Georgia has denied readying for war and said there is no major evacuation.
South Ossetia broke away from the rest of Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 in a conflict that killed thousands of people.
Russia has given the separatist province diplomatic and economic support, including granting citizenship to most of its residents.
"If events develop in the worst possible way, with the use of force, Russia will not be able to stand by, seeing as Russian citizens live in South Ossetia," Popov was quoted by media as saying.
Tensions between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, have soared in recent months since Moscow announced it was boosting ties with the separatists.
Meanwhile South Ossetian officials said militia volunteers from southern Russia were beginning to arrive in the separatist province in preparation for a possible conflict.
"The volunteers are arriving," Dmitry Medoyev, a spokesman for South Ossetia's leadership, told reporters in Moscow, Russian news agencies said.
"We are getting offers of help from the North Caucasus and from the Cossacks of southern Russia," he added.
Georgia said Tuesday it was alarmed by reports that volunteers from Russia had started arriving in South Ossetia obviously in preparation for military action.
The Cossack community in North Ossetia, the Russian republic neighboring South Ossetia, said that several hundred volunteers were ready to protect the unrecognized republic, where at least six people were killed and more than 15 injured in shelling attacks by Georgian troops over the weekend.
Unconfirmed reports later said volunteers had started arriving in South Ossetia. But North Ossetia's interior ministry said Tuesday armed groups would not be allowed to cross the border with the breakaway region.
"We are extremely concerned about Tskhinvali's obvious preparations for war," Georgia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The regime said 300 terrorists, who are Russian nationals, had arrived in the region."
The ministry said Georgia would continue to seek dialogue with South Ossetia and responsibility for any escalation in the violence in the region would rest with Russia.
Tbilisi and Moscow have been locked in a feud over Georgia's two breakaway regions and the ex-Soviet Caucasus state's drive to join NATO.
Tbilisi earlier said the shelling of South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, and a neighboring village had been provoked by the rebel region.
South Ossetia's leader said Monday at least 300 North Ossetians had already arrived in the breakaway region, with up to 2,000 expected. Eduard Kokoity also said other North Caucasus republics had pledged assistance if war breaks out with Georgia.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, gaining de facto independence after bloody conflicts with Tbilisi.
The authorities in breakaway South Ossetia have dismissed Georgian claims that a meeting between the sides had been arranged for Tskhinvali on August 7.
“The South Ossetian side has always been in favor of talks, but only in the framework of the existing quadripartite format – the Joint Control Commission,” a statement posted on the South Ossetian Press and Information website reads.
Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said on August 5 an agreement had been reached, wherein he would meet chief South Ossetian negotiator Boris Chochiev in Tskhinvali on August 7 in the presence of a Russian diplomat.
The Russian diplomat was to have been Yuri Popov, the chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Iakobashvili said.
Russia’s North Ossetian Republic would not be represented at the meeting, Iakobashvili told journalist on August 5.
“We already have preliminary agreement [from Tskhinvali and Moscow] and if nothing changes the meeting will be held in Tskhinvali,” Iakobashvili said. “But I want to reiterate that it will not be in the framework of the Joint Control Commission; it will be bilateral talks in the presence of the Russian side,” he said.
Tbilisi is against holding talks in the framework of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC), which along with Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian negotiators also involves a representative from North Ossetia.
Iakobashvili said the Russian diplomat would have “the status of observer” at the proposed meeting.
Talks over South Ossetia have been stalled for months because of disagreement between the sides over the format negotiations should take.
Tskhinvali and Moscow have been insisting on the resumption of talks in the frames of the existing mechanism - the JCC; Tbilisi, however, rejects this format and has instead proposed a new negotiating body based on a 2+2+2 formula, which would see the North Ossetian side replaced by the South Ossetian provisional administration and the inclusion of the OSCE and EU. Moscow and Tskhinvali refuse to consider the proposal.
The proposed meeting on August 5 with the participation of Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian negotiators seemed to be a compromise allowing both sides to move beyond their stated positions.
Iakobashvili reiterated on August 5 that Tbilisi would never again participate in a JCC session.
Speaking at a news conference, he also said that the Georgian side had received a letter from the Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the South Ossetian conflict zone on the results of the monitoring of the situation on the ground after the August 1-2 violence that engulfed the region. Six people were killed and 22 injured in the fighting. According to Iakobashvili, the monitoring results show that Georgian villages had been shelled by heavy weaponry.
“This is a very important document, which confirms the allegations of the Georgian side,” Iakobashvili said. “The document proves that the accusations leveled against us - that the Georgian side had opened fire first and shelled residential areas in Tskhinvali [and Ossetian villages] and threatened open war - are a farce.”
The state minister also said that monitoring of the Roki Tunnel, linking the breakaway region with Russia’s North Ossetian Republic, was urgently required.
“Huge amounts of ammunition and arms are being brought into the region through this uncontrolled tunnel,” Iakobashvili said. “It is necessary to conduct joint Russian-Georgian monitoring of the Roki tunnel; we raised this issue long ago and now the time has come to do something about it.”
The U.S. Department of State said on August 4 that joint Russo-Georgian monitoring of the Roki Tunnel was needed in order “to stem the flow of illicit arms, ammunition, and armed groups into the region.”
Georgia sought to show the world that it has no military build-up in South Ossetia by inviting foreign reporters and diplomats on a trip to the Tbilisi-controlled areas of the conflict zone on August 5.
“The visit aimed at acquainting foreign diplomats and international media, and naturally Georgian journalists, with the situation on the ground,” Eka Zguladze, the Georgian deputy interior minister, said. “When we say that we are not preparing for war, it means that we are not preparing for war. Not a single Georgian post has been reinforced; no additional troops have been deployed.”
Russian ambassador in Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko was among those in the group.
The Georgian Public Broadcaster aired footage showing the Russian ambassador speaking to a Georgian resident, which later grew into an angry exchange between the diplomat and a Georgian official.
“I do not know what would happen if peacekeepers were not here; would your children be here? So don’t swear at peacekeepers,” Kovalenko told the woman.
“But where are those peacekeepers when our villages are being shelled?” the woman asked.
Kovalenko replied: “General [Marat] Kulakhmetov [commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the South Ossetian conflict zone] has saved many Georgian lifes.”
At that point, Mamuka Kurashvili, an official from the Georgian Defense Ministry in charge of overseeing peacekeeping operations in the conflict zones, intervened, telling the Russian ambassador: “Don’t try to fool the people.”
“I am not talking to you - I have already listened to you on the TV; let me speak with [the locals],” the Russian ambassador responded.
Russia will intervene if conflict erupts in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, a senior Russian diplomat has warned.
Special ambassador Yuri Popov said Russia would defend its citizens living in the conflict zone, Interfax reports.
At least six people have been killed in clashes in the region in recent days.
Georgia denies being behind the violence, and has taken journalists and diplomats to people's homes it says were damaged in separatist attacks.
The BBC's Matthew Collin said local people showed the visitors holes in their houses they said were made by rocket-propelled grenades.
One elderly man said a rocket had left him with a shrapnel wound. He said it was the worst violence in the region for years.
The South Ossetian separatists blame Georgian forces for starting the fighting.
Russia, which has backed the separatists since they fought a war to break away from Georgia in the 1990s, said it would step in if violence escalated.
"If events develop according to the worst-case violence scenario, Russia will not allow itself to remain indifferent, considering that Russian citizens live in South Ossetia, particularly in the conflict zone," Interfax quotes Yuri Popov as saying.
"I don't want to make any grim predictions, but if such events are repeated, the situation may spiral out of control and lead to sad consequences," said Mr Popov, who heads the Russian delegation to a joint commission in South Ossetia.
Senior South Ossetian and Georgian officials are due to meet on Thursday, Mr Popov said.
Mr Popov's comments come after South Ossetia's separatist government accused Georgia on Friday of killing six people and injuring seven in an attack on the outlying village of Satikari.
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity accused the country of "attempting to spark a full-scale war".
Georgia denied accusations that it initiated the mortar attack, saying that its troops had responded after coming under fire at a checkpoint.
Georgia has also condemned the alleged evacuation of South Ossetian children from the conflict zone.
A spokeswoman said the children were actually being sent to holiday camps, as they were every year, and that the separatists was using their youngsters as political propaganda.
NATO said on August 5 it was unaware of a Georgian troop build-up near breakaway South Ossetia, Reuters reported.
“NATO has seen the reports of the violent confrontations in the Georgian region of South Ossetia in the last few days, which caused a significant number of casualties,” NATO spokesperson Carmen Romero said. “We call on all parties to de-escalate the tensions.”
Israel has decided to halt all sales of military equipment to Georgia because of objections from Russia, which is locked in a feud with its smaller Caucasus neighbor, Israeli defense officials said Tuesday.
The officials said the freeze was partially intended to give Israel leverage with Moscow in its attempts to persuade Russia not to ship arms and equipment to Iran. They spoke on condition of anonymity as Israel does not officially publish details of its arms sales.
Russia has repeatedly refused to comment on reports its is selling S-300 air defense missiles to Iran.
Among items Israel has been selling to Tbilisi are pilotless drone aircraft. Russian fighters shot one down in May, according to U.N. observers.
Russia sent Israel a letter of protest after the shooting incident asking it to stop supplying military hardware to Georgia "as Russia from time to time complies with Israel's requests not to supply weapons systems" to states seen as threatening Israel, according to a report Tuesday in the Israeli daily Maariv.
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The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment Tuesday on the reported arms trade freeze.
Georgian Cabinet minister Temur Yakobashvili denied the report.
"There has been no decision by Israel to stop selling weapons. The gossip about that in the Israeli media is linked to the internal political process in Israel," Yakobashvili said.
Israel is one of the world's leading arms exporters but does not detail the contents or value of its trade with individual countries.
In addition to the spy drones, Israel has also been supplying Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and has helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert based in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also serve as advisers to the Georgian military.
Tensions between Israel and Iran are high, with Israeli officials warning of a possible military strike against what it says is a nuclear weapons program under development by Tehran. The sale by Russia of anti-aircraft weapons could help Iran fend off an attack.
Iran denies it has nuclear arms ambitions, saying its program is for peaceful purposes.
The disagreement between Russia and Georgia centers on two breakaway Georgian provinces which have close ties with Russia.
Two news websites run by breakaway South Ossetia were hacked on Tuesday morning, officials from the secessionist authorities said.
The front page of the website of the news agency, OSinform - osinform.ru - which is run by the breakaway region’s state radio and television station IR - retained the agency's header and logo, but otherwize the entire page was featuring Alania TV's website content, including its news and images. Alania TV is supported by the Georgian government, and targets audiences in the breakaway region.
Another website of the breakaway region’s radio and television station - osradio.ru – was also hacked.
Alania TV has denied any involvement, saying it was itself surprised to see its content on the rival news agency’s website.
Original content on the osinform.ru website was restored at about 2:30pm local time on August 5.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Medoev, the South Ossetian secessionist envoy in Moscow, told the Regnum news agency that the attack on the websites came shortly after they had run news that 29 Georgian servicemen were allegedly killed during the recent flare-up on August 1 and 2 in the region. Medoev claimed that Tbilisi was trying to cover up the deaths. The South Ossetian side has claimed that the Georgian servicemen were killed after a truck carrying them was hit by a South Ossetian SPG anti tank gun. The Georgian side has insisted it suffered no fatalities as a result of the recent violence. It says only one policeman and six civilians were injured.
The website of the Tskhinvali-backed Press and Information Committee – cominf.org – has not been hacked.
Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said he would meet chief South Ossetian negotiator Boris Chochiev in Tskhinvali on August 7.
He said both sides had agreed that the meeting should be held in the presence of Yuri Popov, the chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia.
Representative from Russia’s North Ossetian Republic will not be in attendance, Iakobashvili told journalist on August 5.
“It will not be a meeting in the framework of the Joint Control Commission; it will be bilateral talks in the presence of the Russian side,” he said.
Tbilisi is against holding talks in the framework of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC), which along with Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian negotiators also involves a representative from North Ossetia.
The residents of the South Ossetia capital are fully cut from fresh water supply, stated today Robert Guliyev, mayor of Tskhinval. According to him, while previously water was supplied with interruptions, now the water intake is completely depleted.
Guliyev pointed out that water supply had become insufficient, starting already from the beginning of July of the current year. "On July 26, the group of military observers and specialists of the parties in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict registered illegal takes-off in the Georgian villages which the pipeline Edis-Tskhinvai crosses. Now, the Georgian villages take off 90 percent of the water", says Guliyev.
The mayor has promised that the city administration is going to continue to provide water for the population in tank trucks. Guliyev also warns against individual trips for water to the nearby sources because there have been cases of coming under fire, reports ITAR-TASS.
The South Ossetia Committee on Information and Press reports that, today, in the course of his tour of Tskhinval districts for checking the schedule of providing fresh water to the city population, Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia president, threatened Georgia to cut off water lines along which potable water goes from South Ossetia to Georgia if the illegal takes-off in the pipeline are not eliminated soon and the water supply fully restored.
The U.S. Department of State said a joint Georgian-Russian monitoring of the Roki Tunnel, linking breakaway South Ossetia with the Russia’s North Ossetian Republic was needed to curb illegal arms trafficking.
It has also called for “an immediate halt to violence” in the South Ossetian conflict zone and for direct talks between the parties.
The South Ossetian side said six people were killed and fifteen injured on its side as a result of the most intensive fire in the region in years on August 1 and overnight on August 2. The Georgian side said one Georgian policeman and six Georgian civilians were injured.
“[We] understand that the OSCE is investigating the incident and we’re going to look forward to their report,” Gonzalo R. Gallegos, the Department of State’s acting deputy spokesman said on August 4.
“These incidents underscore the need for an immediate increase in the number of OSCE monitors in South Ossetia, as well as joint Georgian-Russian monitoring of the Roki Tunnel to stem the flow of illicit arms, ammunition, and armed groups into the region,” he added.
Text of report by private Georgian news agency Kavkas-Press
Tbilisi, 5 August: "If fighters [Russian: "boyeviki"] from North Ossetia are used against Georgia in the Tskhinvali region [South Ossetia], the Georgian side will do its utmost to eliminate them." [Brig-Gen] Mamuka Qurashvili, the chief of peacekeeping operations at the Georgian Defence Ministry, made this statement in remarks to journalists today.
Qurashvili said that the Russian peacekeepers stationed in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone were facilitating the entrance of fighters from North Ossetia despite the fact that the peacekeepers mandate stipulates that they exercise control over roads entering the region and prevent illegal armed formations from entering the conflict zone.
He added that they are not doing so because it is in Russia's interests for fighters to enter the Tskhinvali region and drag Georgia into armed confrontation. This is why, the commander said, no-one is controlling the influx of illegal armed formations into the region.
Let us recall that Tskhinvali separatist leader Eduard Kokoyty has said that 300 fighters have already entered the Tskhinvali region from North Ossetia in order to help the de facto republic of South Ossetia.
Originally published by Kavkas-Press, Tbilisi, in Georgian 0930 5 Aug 08.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called the increase of Georgian forces in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone illegal.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin had a telephone conversation with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried on August 3, the ministry said on Monday.
"The Russian side voiced profound concern over the new outbreak of tensions surrounding South Ossetia, the illegal increase of Georgian forces in the [conflict] zone and the uncontrolled construction of fortifications," the ministry said.
In the opinion of the ministry, such actions "make South Ossetian residents nervous."
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