(AFP) – Oct 18, 2008
MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia-backed separatist authorities in South Ossetia on Saturday ordered their soldiers to return fire if shot at by Georgian forces following an alleged shooting incident earlier in the day.
"From today all posts have been given an order to return fire if their posts come under fire," the separatist government said on its official website, quoting the province's de facto interior minister, Mikhail Mindzayev.
The province's leader, Eduard Kokoity, meanwhile accused European Union monitors in the region of being biased, failing to uphold an EU-brokered ceasefire and making the situation worse, Russian news agencies reported.
In the first such reported incident since a brief war in the region in August, South Ossetian authorities earlier on Saturday accused Georgian forces of firing on their soldiers with machine guns and grenade launchers.
A spokesman for Georgia's interior ministry denied this, saying the fire in fact came from drunken Russian soldiers shooting into the air. He also said a Russian spy plane had been spotted in the area in breach of the truce.
"The Georgian side has fired on security force posts of the Republic of South Ossetia," breaking the ceasefire, Mindzayev said earlier, adding that no South Ossetian military personnel had been killed or injured by the shooting.
"South Ossetian security force posts near the Georgian village of Nikozi came under fire from machine guns and other firearms this morning. It happened as South Ossetian positions in the border zones were being set up," he said.
But Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP: "Drunk Russian soldiers were firing into the air" at a security post near Nikozi, on the Georgian side of a de facto border with South Ossetia.
Utiashvili also said: "A Russian drone flew over Nikozi this morning and then returned to Tskhinvali," the capital of South Ossetia. He said the spy plane was "obviously" in violation of the ceasefire.
Meanwhile separatist leader Kokoity was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency that an EU monitoring mission deployed in the area as part of the ceasefire agreement had failed to ensure security.
"International observers are acting very strangely by not reacting to this. The bias of international observers is clear. Their activities are not helping the situation, they are making it worse," Kokoity said.
"The situation in the border zone between South Ossetia and Georgia is becoming more difficult. There are kidnappings and shootings of South Ossetian security force posts almost every day," he continued.
Following the conflict with Georgia, Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway province of Georgia, as independent states in a move that was roundly condemned by Western powers and Georgia.
Tensions remain high despite a ceasefire in place in the region as Georgian authorities have said Russia must pull all its forces out of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in order to comply with the ceasefire agreement.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from the rest of Georgia with Russian backing in the early 1990s in conflict that killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands of Georgians to flee their homes.
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