Russia Georgia South Ossetia Sign Accord to End Separatist Conflict

MOSCOW (AFP)–Russia–Georgia and its separatist region of South Ossetia signed an agreement aimed at ending the escalating conflict over the disputed province.

The tiny mountainous region on Georgia’s border with Russia has seen a string of clashes recently that have increased tensions between Tbilisi–South Ossetia’s self-proclaimed government–and its protector Moscow.

"All sides signed the agreement," Russian army deputy chief for peacekeeping operations–Valery Evnevich told reporters in Moscow.

Georgian–South Ossetian–and Russian officials had met behind closed doors for two days in Moscow as part of a joint commission working to defuse the recent tensions over the disputed province.

"All sides reaffirmed their aim to strictly follow the principle of peacefully resolving the conflict and emphasized that using force and economic pressure as unacceptable," Evnevich said.

But he also said the joint commission would continue to meet in South Ossetia’s capital Tskhnivali until the conflict was completely resolved–a hint that tensions in the volatile region were unlikely to die down immediately.

Recent flareups have included armed South Ossetians detaining Georgian police officers at gunpoint and Georgia seizing two Russian convoys–including one with military equipment reportedly for Moscow’s peacekeepers stationed in the region.

South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia after fighting a civil war against Tbilisi with Russian support in the early 1990s–following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Today–the province is effectively a Russian protectorate–with most residents holding Russian passports–using rubles and relying on Moscow to keep Tbilisi at bay. Peacekeepers from Russia–Georgia and South Ossetia patrol separate parts of the province.

But tensions in the region have risen recently amid moves by Georgia’s new president Mikhail Saakashvili–to make good on his January election pledge to reunify his fractured former Soviet republic.

Russia–the traditional power broker in the Caucasus–has warily watched the efforts of the pro-Western Saakashvili–who in May succeeded in ousting a pro-Moscow leader in Georgia’s semi-autonomous region of Adjara.

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