South Ossetia claiming mortar attack from Georgia

Sunday, August 2, 2009

TBILISI, Georgia -- Authorities in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia said Saturday that two mortar shells had fired into the territory from Georgia proper, and Russia quickly warned that it might retaliate.

Georgia denied the claim and accused Russia and South Ossetia of provocation before the first anniversary of Georgia's short but fierce war with Russia last summer.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry called Russia's warning that it was prepared to use force to defend the region an "undisguised threat" that reflected "dangerous designs against Georgia."

"There was no kind of firing from the Georgian side," Georgia's Interior Ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili said. "Despite the calls [for restraint] by the European Union observer mission on the threshold of the anniversary of the August events, the Russian and Ossetian sides are striving to aggravate the situation."

South Ossetia's information ministry said no one was injured by the two mortar rounds it said were fired from Ditsi toward a South Ossetian military observation post. The area is a few miles south of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Georgia and Russia fought a brief war sparked by a Georgian rocket and artillery barrage of Tskhinvali on Aug. 8, 2008. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said the barrage was necessary because Russia was sending waves of troops to the Moscow-backed region. But Russia said the attack was an attempt to seize control of the region, which in practice has been independent of the Georgian government since the mid-1990s.

The war ended with Georgian forces being driven out of the parts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region. Russia now maintains thousands of troops in the two separatist regions.

Although the war gutted Georgia's military, Russia contends Saakashvili still means to take Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force, and Russia has objected to other countries giving any military aid to Georgia.

In Moscow, the Defense Ministry said in a statement after the reported mortar attack: "In the event of further provocations that present a threat to the population of the republic or to Russian servicemen deployed on the territory of South Ossetia, the Russian Defense Ministry reserves the right to use all available forces and means to protect the citizens of South Ossetia and Russian servicemen."

"All of this resembles the falsifications and threats that were heard last year ahead of the aggression," Georgian Security Council head Eka Tkeshelashvili told AP. "

Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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