Russia, Georgia trade accusation of 'new attacks'

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Moscow, Aug 11 (UNI) Russia and Georgia today traded accusations of launching new military strikes on each other as foreign diplomats pressed two sides for a ceasefire in the armed conflict between the two former Soviet republics over the Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Moscow said Georgian attacks on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali killed three of its peacekeepers while Tbilisi said up to 50 Russian fighter jets attacked targets inside Georgia overnight, with targets around the Georgian capital.

However, dismissing Georgia's charges of air strikes on Tbilisi's airstrips, Russia's state Russia Today TV channel showed pictures of 'bombed' airport welcoming French and Finnish Foreign Ministers yesterday.

The images showed no sign of damage to the building or its airstrips. Earlier, Georgia claimed Russian warplanes bombed the capital's airport.

In another development, the Georgian government has backtracked on an earlier accusation that Russian planes bombed two military bases near Tblisi last night.

A new statement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs said bombs were dropped on uninhabited areas.

After three days of fighting, Tskhinvali has been left devastated.

''Its luckiest residents are those who have escaped their lives.

Thousands are dead but many thousands more have been forced to flee, leaving their homes and possessions behind,'' the channel reported.

Refugees from South Ossetia are currently taking shelter in hospitals and schools in the neighbouring Russian republic of North Ossetia, it said.

Thousands of refugees are taking shelter in hastily organised camps. Schools and kindergartens are among the places turned into temporary shelters.

Meanwhile, Georgia and Russia finally reached an agreement to open a humanitarian corridor, a safe exit out of Tshinvali. South Ossetian officials plan to use this route to evacuate 3,000 people today.

Thousands of evacuees now face an uncertain future with their homes and livelihoods destroyed.

Elsewhere, US President George W Bush criticised Russia's response, while EU diplomats headed to Moscow for talks.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who met Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday, said he was seeking a ''controlled withdrawal of troops'' from the conflict zone.

Fighting started last Friday when Georgia launched an overnight assault on South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a war in 1992.

Russia, which supports the breakaway province, hit back, with massive military might, to reassert its influence in the region.

UNI XC PD HT1615

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