Georgia continues shooting peacekeepers in South Ossentia: Russia

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Moscow, Aug 11 (UNI) The Commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the Georgia-Ossetia conflict zone (JPKF) Marat Kulakhmetov has accused Georgian forces of continuing shooting at peacekeepers' positions despite Tbilisi's claims its troops had been withdrawn from the suburbs of Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

''Peacekeepers' positions came under fire again last night despite Tbilisi's claims its troops had been withdrawn from Tskhinvali's suburbs,'' Mr Kulakhmetov told Interfax-AVN news agency today.

''Active fighting has been going on at several zones controlled by the peacekeepers, especially to the south of the capital. One of our posts have even been bombed by Georgian aircraft. Fortunately, there are no casualties,'' he said.

The main task for peacekeepers today would be to secure a safe way out of Tskhinvali to North Ossetia for refugees, he added.

Georgia said yesterday that it had withdrawn its army from South Ossetia and offered a cease-fire after two days of all-out war over the breakaway region, claiming overwhelming Russian military might and warning that Moscow was opening up a second front in Abkhazia, another breakaway region of Georgia.

Russia claimed the heavy fighting since the early Friday killed about 2,000 people, including 15 Russian peacekeepers, forcing over 30,000 people flee South Ossetia into North Ossetia.

Georgia said it lost upto 300 people.

Russian media reports said today tensions were running high in Abkhazia as Georgian official claimed Russian warplanes had bombed the western town of Zugdidi and Georgian-controlled territory inside Abkhazia, pointing out, however, it could not be independently confirmed.

The leader of the separatist government in Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh, said he had ordered a military operation to clear Georgian forces out of Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge, and gave them a deadline to leave.

Georgia has accused Russia of landing 4,000 more troops in Abkhazia via the Black Sea. Russian NTV reported that additional Russian troops had landed in Abkhazia, heading to Kodori.

The separatists said Georgia had deployed a similar number of soldiers south of the Abkhaz border.

Reports also said tens of thousands of people have fled the Georgian town of Gori, near the border with South Ossetia, amid fears that Russian troops were heading for the town.

According to national media reports, the Russian Navy has deployed a flotilla off Georgia's Black Sea coast, in order to stop military equipment reaching Georgia by sea.

However, the armed forces' chief of staff, Anatoloy Nogovytsin denied yesterday in Moscow that Russian ships would take part in military actions.

Russia has stepped up its military strikes against Georgia despite strong cricticism from the United States.

In a latest accusation, in a telephone call to Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili, the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, said Russian aggression ''must not go unanswered''.

US President George W Bush said he had expressed his grave concern to Moscow at the military's ''disproportionate'' response.

Mr Saakashvili told CNN that Tbilisi had proclaimed a ceasefire and was willing to sign a document on the non-use of force in the conflict zone.

He claimed Georgian forces had completely withdrawn from South Ossetia.

However, the refugees who managed to escape the hot spot, said Georgian troops were still in South Ossetia and fighting continues.

There are reports there has been a new outbreak of artillery shelling in Tskhinvali last night, though the South Ossetian capital is now fully under the control of South Ossetian forces and the Russian 58th army, according to the breakaway republic's president Eduard Kokoity.

''All strategic heights around the city are also being taken under control so that not to allow another shelling of Tskhinvali,'' Mr Kokoity said.

Russia yesterday said there would be no peace talks with Georgia till it withdrew its forces from South Ossetia and signed a legally binding agreement renouncing the use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

UNI XC RJ DS1303

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