Weekend Gunfire Leaves Casualties

(Messenger)–Six Ossetian paramilitaries were killed and two Georgian policemen were wounded as a result of shooting in the conflict zone early on August 1–according to Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.

According to the ministry–gunmen opened fire against the Georgian village Tamarasheni around 5:00 AM Sunday morning from territory controlled by the de-facto republic of South Ossetia.

"The attack started in the morning and we decided to respond," said the head of the press office of Ministry of Internal Affairs Guram Donadze.

He stressed the units that attacked the Georgian village were formed by hired paramilitaries of a variety of nationalities. During his visit to Moscow last week–the leader of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoiti told the Russian press that although illegally armed formations were withdrawn from the territory of South Ossetia–the separatist government still pinned substantial hopes on their support and would use it whenever needed.

Also on Sunday–former residents of Ossetia living in Moscow led a protest in front of the Russian Federation’s Duma demanding that Russia annex the region. As reported by Rustavi-2–the protesters carried posters stating–"The so-called Georgia is fiction and her territorial integrity is nonsense."

Shortly before the shootings–representatives of the four-member Joint Control Commission (JCC) had taken measures to curtail the sporadic gunfights that have erupted in the region recently. According to the Georgian government–separatists used mortars–grenade launchers and machine guns in an early morning attack on Tamarasheni Friday–although the South Ossetian officials blamed Georgian troops for starting attacks.

On Saturday members of the JCC met in Tskhinvali bringing together the Georgian–South Ossetian–Russian and North Ossetian sides. State Minister Goga Khaindrava and Minister of Internal Affairs Irakli Okruashvili represented the position of the Georgian government.

According to reports–the sides decided to set up a joint checkpoint near Tskhinvali to avoid any future attacks.

It is unclear if Georgian or Russian troops were stationed at the checkpoint at the time of Sunday’s shooting.

In Georgia’s latest bid to gain diplomatic support–Minister of Foreign Affairs Salome Zurabishvili addressed the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna–Austria–on Thursday July 29 and asked the organization to increase its activity in the region and even set up a joint check point at the Roki tunnel into Russia.

Her appeal was welcomed by the US Ambassador to the OSCE Stephan Minikes who said his government "noted with great interest the proposal of the Foreign Minister which was made today to expand the mandate of the OSCE Mission to Georgia."

"We stand willing to work with the Government of Georgia and other key interested parties and participating States to come to agreement early this fall on how best to amend the mandate of the OSCE Mission in Georgia so as to promote greater stability in South Ossetia and a more rapid settlement of the conflict there that is fully in line with OSCE principles," he said in published remarks.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rebuffed the proposal–saying–"Unbiased assessment of the situation is essential and not the increase of number of observers," as reported by Civil Georgia. The Russian government has frequently accused the OSCE of giving Georgia preferential treatment while carrying out its existing–limited–monitoring mission in South Ossetia.

The Russian ministry added that overtures like Zurabishvili’s "aim at switching attention from the major problem and hinder reaching decision that would really foster putting an end to escalation of tensions in the region."

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