Georgia’s South Ossetian Economic Minister Goes Missing Amid Tensions

TBILISI (AFP)–The economic minister of Georgia’s separatist region of South Ossetia–Ruslan Pliyev–is missing after his empty car was found in a river–a local television news station reported–as cited by Agence France-Presse.

This report comes amid growing tension in the former Soviet republic–with its new president–Mikhail Saakashvili–trying to win back control over his fractured Caucasus state–having toppled the country’s leadership in a peaceful "rose revolution" last year. The news station–which has not been identified–cited undisclosed sources as saying that foul play may have been involved in the disappearance of Pliyev–who–the station said–is in conflict with other leaders of the separatist pro-Moscow government in South Ossetia.

Georgian officials have so far made no official commen’s on the reported disappearance. Nevertheless–the alleged incident adds to the confusion surrounding relations between Georgia–the pro-Russian region–and Russia itself–whose defense minister strongly rejected accusations that Moscow’s planes are spying on Georgia.

"This is all nonsense and delirium," Russian defense minister–Sergei Ivanov–was quoted as saying by Interfax in Moscow. Nevertheless–Georgia’s interior minister vowed last week to shoot down the next Russian military plane flying over Georgia. Ivanov’s commen’s followed a tense meeting with Georgian defense minister Georgy Baramidze–held in an effort to resolve a growing military conflict in the corridor between South Ossetia and Georgia–presently guarded by Russian troops.

The conflict has so far almost totally been reserved to a war of words–but there has been sporadic gun fire and arrests of various peacekeepers in the region. The talks in Moscow also focused on Abkhazia–another pro-Moscow region in Georgia that serves as a popular summer resort for Russia’s.

In blistering remarks–Saakashvili threatened last week to sink foreign ships that enter the region without permission. "Abkhazia is not a place to holiday–it is a war zone…(Russian) tourists have nothing to do there," he said–before leaving for a visit to the US. But–his deputies have since said that his commen’s were misinterpreted by reporters–in a move clearly aimed at appeasing relations with Moscow.

Seen as a young–popular reformer–Saakashvili has vowed to reunify his fractured republic since toppling the administration of veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolution last year. He has also developed closer relations with the West–and his country will soon be home to a key US-backed oil pipeline that skirts Russian territory–despite being opposed by Moscow.

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