Gun battle raises 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 forces 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 Georgian side started the shooting . 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 also suggested that the incident is connected with an agreement reached during negotiations.  He added that whenever the opposing sides seemed close to agreement, an incident such as the latest one took place.

Peacekeepers and OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] monitors in the region are carrying out an investigation.  They're trying to establish the source of 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 Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia, confirmed the use of mortars and heavy guns in the firefight.

It's reported that calm has been restored in the conflict zone.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.  An armed conflict began when Georgia tried to get it back. 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.

Meanwhile, Abkhazia – another Georgia’s breakaway region – has sent troops to its border with Georgia in light of the recent tension.

“We are sure that South Ossetia has succeeded as a state.  What South Ossetia has done in the last 15 years arouses a feeling of great respect for its ability to preserve its people and its armed forces, and to stick to its earlier declarations – something which the President of South Ossetia and we in Abkhazia have repeatedly stressed,” said Sergey Bagapsh, Abkhazian President.

The President of the Unity for Russia Foundation, Vyacheslav Nikonov, believes Georgia wants to take control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“The strategic goal of the Georgian government is quite clear. They want to restore the entire territory of their country.  That means getting control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, even if that requires the use of force. Actually, the Georgian government many times declared its readiness to re-fight the wars that were fought in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the beginning of the 1990s,” he said.