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29 Jun, 2007 13:56

Situation remains strained in South Ossetia

Tensions have once again flared in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. There are reports of gunfire in the suburbs of the capital Tskhinvali with a number of people injured and one policeman dead from gunshot wounds.

As gunshots ring out over the South Ossetian conflict zone, the situation in the region is becoming dangerously strained. “All that is happening in the conflict zone has a guided nature.  Everything that has happened has been directed, planned. You can't just have 300 people appear on a bus – they were driven here – if you look closely things weren't so simple. It was directed, they wanted to have common people to clash with the Russian contingent,” stressed Murat Kulakhmetov, Commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in South Ossetia.

One South Ossetian militiaman was reported killed on Friday after coming under fire from Georgian villages, meanwhile the Georgian peacekeeping command claim South Ossetian positions fired at them. Such counterclaims are common in a region where Georgian and Ossetian controlled villages are often located just a few kilometres from one another, and sporadic shootings are common, however, the de facto authorities have been making ominous statements about the imminent outbreak of hostilities.

“In our opinion, the situation is intensifying because the leadership of Georgia has taken a turn to militarization in the conflict zone. Along the entire perimeter of the borders of South Ossetia and Georgia armed groups are being deployed, hot spots are being equipped, and various fortified structures are being built,” said Dmitry Medoev, de facto South Ossetian envoy in Moscow.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia following a conflict in the early 1990s. Its reunification with the rest of Georgia is the top priority of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Georgia, however, says it is committed to only peaceful means of conflict settlement, and South Ossetian claims about a Georgian military build up have been summarily dismissed. Mamuka Kurashvili, Commander of the Georgian Peacekeeping Forces in South Ossetia, noted: “No tanks, no self-propelled weapons are in the conflict zone. It's totally ludicrous. The Ossetian side is misleading the international community. A monitoring group has finished its work there and its findings have been signed with the Ossetians. They went around the entire conflict zone. They found only 13 armoured cars, which we had put there after notifying them about it. There's no other machinery there.”

Whoever was first to open fire in Friday’s shootings, incidents like this push the region dangerously close to open conflict.