Russia warns Georgia over breakaway province

Mon Aug 4, 2008 3:39am EDT
 
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has accused Georgia of using disproportionate force in its breakaway province of South Ossetia and warned it not to aggravate the crisis there, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin issued the warning in a telephone conversation late on Sunday with his Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze, the ministry said in a press release posted on its web site (www.mid.ru).

"Moscow is seriously concerned with the escalation of tension in the region caused by disproportionate use of force by the Georgian side," Karasin told Vashadze, according to the press release.

The conversation followed a weekend of fresh clashes in South Ossetia, a mountainous region bordering Russia that broke away from Georgia after a bloody war in the early 1990s.

At least six people were killed and more than 15 others were injured in a series of shellings of the regional capital Tskhinvali and surrounding villages, which separatist authorities said deliberately targeted civilians.

Separatists accused Georgia of amassing troops in the region and have begun evacuating women and children to neighbouring Russia. Georgia said its forces were only returning fire and denied any military build-up in the area.

"Tbilisi should realize the real threat of the situation developing along a violent path," Karasin said. "It should make effective steps not to allow the further aggravation of the crisis."

Georgia, whose pro-Western government seeks to end traditional dependence on Russia in favor of closer ties with the West, views regaining control over South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as a top national priority.

Tbilisi has accused Russia, whose peacekeepers have been deployed in both regions since the mid-1990s, of standing behind the separatists. Georgia suspects Russia of seeking to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia.   Continued...

 
<p>A Georgian soldier looks at a projectile that hit the ground near a cemetery in the village of Upper Nikozi in the Georgian-controlled part of South Ossetia some 100 km (62 miles) from Tbilisi August 2, 2008. REUTERS/Nodar Skhvirashvili</p>