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US Secretary of State in Georgia Hours After Deadly Georgian Firefight


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in Georgia just hours after a deadly firefight between Georgian troops and separatists in a Russian-backed breakaway region.

Rice arrived in Tbilisi late Wednesday afternoon, and was set to dine with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Ahead of Rice's arrival, a senior State Department official who did not want to be identified told reporters that unchecked conflict in the region could lead to catastrophe. The official also said Moscow should realize its Soviet empire is gone.

Georgian authorities, who accuse Russia of stoking tensions in the region, say four separatists were killed in the gun battle in the Kodori Gorge of the country's breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Several Georgian troops were reported wounded.

Abkhazian officials confirmed the clashes but not the fatalities. Separately, officials in Tbilisi accused four Russian military planes of violating Georgian airspace today.

Rice is expected to use her visit to voice support for the Georgian government and to press Russia and the separatists to back away from further confrontation.

Tuesday, Russia presented a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council voicing deep concern over Georgia's actions in Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s, sparking fighting and the dispatch of Russian peacekeepers to the region. Georgia has insisted it will restore central government control in the areas.

Rice is on a four-day European tour that has already taken her to Prague and the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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