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14 Jul, 2007 17:37

CIS peacekeepers in South Ossetia: preventing violence for 15 years

Peacekeeping forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia are marking 15 years of patrolling the area. In 1992 four battalions, including soldiers from Russia, Georgia and North and South Osset

The Ossetian battalion troops show off their skills as hundreds of spectators gather at the CIS peacekeeping force headquarters in Tskhinvali.  CIS troops come from former Soviet Union republics. The commanders say their mission in South Ossetia is far from being complete, but so far it’s been successful.

“I’ve said it many times to the delegations from the West: there should be no illusions. If Russian peacekeepers were not present in the region an armed conflict would begin here for sure,” Marat Kulakhmetov, CIS peacekeepers commander said.

The armed conflict between Georgia and its breakaway republic of South Ossetia sparked in 1991, as the Ossetian parliament proclaimed independence. Georgia sent its troops and a full-scale military operation was launched. The war resulted in hundreds of casualties on both sides. After several months of non-stop violence, the Commonwealth of Independent States stopped the conflict stationing its own peacekeeping force in the region.

In 1992 the CIS peacekeepers were the only ones who could stop the bloodshed in South Ossetia. Fifteen years later their mission remains the same: to separate the conflicting sides and prevent violent clashes.

South Ossetian leaders say it’s mainly the Russian soldiers that they want to thank for saving lives.

“People of South Ossetia are extremely thankful to Russian peacekeepers. For us today they're a guarantee of peace and stability,” Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia’s President noted.

Even though there are four peacekeeping battalions near Tskhinvali, including Georgian troops, Tbilisi has decided not to take part in the celebrations. For a long time Georgia has not been satisfied with the peacekeeping operation. Georgian officials want to change the format of the force and want the troops to act differently.

The conflict in South Ossetia is far from being over, and soldiers risk their lives by putting themselves in the line of fire. The talks between the two sides are going very slowly, and it looks like the mission for the peacekeepers in the conflict zone will continue for months yet, possibly years.