Georgian PM Comes Under Fire in Ossetia

TBILISI (AFP/Civil Georgia)–Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said Friday that he came under attack from South Ossetian troops while visiting the separatist region on a peace mission.

He told Georgia’s private television that no one was hurt in the attack. The station showed footage of gunfire as he passed through an area that saw three Georgian soldiers killed Thursday.

"They were shooting directly at us," he said. "I see this as Ossetia’s response to our peace initiative.

"Both Ossetian and Russian peacekeepers knew that only my convoy was passing through that region at the time," he said.

Zhvania went to its northern separatist region–which is trying to join Russia–late Thursday amid Georgian efforts to win back its control.

Those attempts have so far led to shootouts between Georgian–Ossetian–and Russian troops–which are also acting in the region as peacekeepers.

The pro-Moscow region’s self-declared president denied his forces were responsible for any attack.

The village of Eredvi–where the incident occurred–"is controlled by Georgian troops," Eduard Kokoity told Russia’s Interfax news agency. "There was no shooting from the Ossetian side–and we view this as a provocation."

At least five villagers were reported injured at Eredvi in shooting that started early Friday morning–according to Georgian television.

The station claimed the attack came from the Ossetians in yet another exchange of accusations in the escalating conflict.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili raised the prospect on Thursday of "ethnic cleansing" in the separatist region after fighting there left four soldiers dead and around 40 people injured.

A senior Russian official also sounded an alarm over the latest developmen’s in South Ossetia–a territory located along the Georgia-Russia border which has enjoyed a measure of de facto independence since fighting a war with Tbilisi in the early 1990s.

Russia has proposed an emergency meeting of a tripartite Georgian-Ossetian-Russian commission charged with resolving the dispute and appealed in the meantime for an immediate ceasefire.

The United States on Thursday urged Russia and Georgia to end rising tension over the separatist Georgian region.

"We are urging Georgian officials to move quickly to avoid further conflict," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

"We’re also making the point with Russian officials that it’s important to work with the South Ossetian authorities to end hostilities immediately."

He said US diplomats had been in touch with Georgian authorities in Tbilisi and that the message had been conveyed to Moscow in meetings with officials from the Russian embassy in Washington.

Ereli also told reporters that the United States backed Russia’s call for an emergency meeting of the so-called "Joint Control Commission," a tripartite Georgian-Ossetian-Russian commission charged with resolving the festering dispute.

Georgia’s parliament has overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Russian peacekeepers withdraw from its separatist region of South Ossetia and instead be replaced by international troops. The non-binding resolution has been passed in a 117-3 vote on the same day Zhvania came under fire from South Ossetian troops while visiting the separatist region.

Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze was barred from entering South Ossetia’s self-declared capital Tskhinvali region on August 13.

"The Ossetian side is categorically against my entering the Tskhinvali region. I simply want to pass via Tskhinvali [capital of breakaway South Ossetia] and meet with Georgian population of the breakaway region," Nino Burjanadze said at the Tkviavi administrative border between breakaway South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia.

She reiterated that the Georgian Prime Minister is ready to hold talks with South Ossetian de facto President Eduard Kokoity; however–the latter is categorically against.

Saakashvili has vowed to reassert Tbilisi’s authority over the entirety of his Caucasian country–which splintered into several separatist regions in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

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