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15 Jun, 2008 17:19

More gunfire on border following death of policeman

Gunmen have fired at peacekeepers and OSCE observers in the Georgia-Ossetia conflict zone. The monitoring group was, on Sunday, investigating the shootout which took place in the area late on Saturday.

The peacekeepers say they don't know who started that shootout which went on for an hour and a half and left a South Ossetian policeman dead.

Two civilians were also wounded in the incident and are being treated by doctors.

South Ossetian officials say Saturday's attack on the city of Tskhinvali with large-calibre weapons and mortars came from villages on Georgian territory at around midnight.

The firing stopped after a counter offensive was launched. There were also reports from South Ossetia of similar attacks on Wednesday.

However, it’s a totally different story on the Georgian side. Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency quotes a Georgian military official as saying three villages on their side came under fire from the South Ossetian city of Tskhinvali on Saturday night.

Georgian army officers confirmed that they returned fire.

An official has said there were no injuries.

Meanwhile, the breakaway republic of South Ossetia claims Georgia has banned its people from crossing the border. People with Russian and South Ossetian passports and vehicles won't be allowed through Georgian police checkpoints, which South Ossetia says were illegally installed in the conflict zone.

Ossetian authorities claim Tbilisi is establishing a national border in violation of existing agreements.

“This is a clear violation of the agreements Georgia signed within the mixed control commission for the settlement of the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict. According to that document, all people in the conflict zone have the right to move freely and here Georgia is unilaterally violating it. Georgia’s decision is a political move leading to escalation of the conflict. It indicates Georgia doesn’t want to settle it in a peaceful manner,” said Irina Gagloeva from South Ossetia’s Committee for Information and Press.

However, Georgia's peacekeepers in the conflict zone say the additional passport checks won't cause inconvenience for civilians, and are only being carried out to put pressure on local militant groups.

“I assure you that both Georgians and Ossetians will not have any problems moving from one place to another. And no one will be able to stop that even temporarily. But this doesn’t mean that militants will also enjoy freedom of movement,” said Mamuka Kurashvili, Commander of Georgian peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the region has been embroiled in conflict. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia want independence from Georgia. Armed conflict ended in fragile ceasefires, which are maintained by UN peacekeepers – most of them Russian troops.