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Fighting in Georgia Appears to Spread as Diplomatic Efforts Stepped Up


Georgian officials have accused Russian forces of expanding their military action to the western part of the country, near a second breakaway region with close ties to Russia. Allegations of fighting in the western part of Georgia came as the two sides traded fresh accusations about fighting near South Ossetia, the breakaway region where the conflict began last week. Emma Stickgold has this report from the VOA bureau in Moscow.

Georgian officials say Russian forces have moved into the town of Senaki, which is located near the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Georgian officials say the Russian troops took control of an abandoned military base and police stations.

If true, the reports of Russian military action near Abkhazia would mark an escalation of the fighting, which began last week when Georgian forces launched an attack on the capital of the separatist province of South Ossetia in a bid to reassert control over the area. The action triggered a swift Russian military response, which has been condemned as "disproportionate" by western nations that have been appealing for an immediate halt to the fighting.

In remarks on Monday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to take over all of Georgia.

"And the result and the end game of this operation of Russian troops is to commit ethnic cleansing and the annihilation of the ethnic Georgian population in the entire Abkhazia," said Mikhail Saakashvili. "I want to appeal to the world's present consciousness - can one, in the eyes of today's world, say openly and cynically those lies, and can one still hesitate and so 'oh you know, maybe we should think who is at fault and who is doing what and who started and who responded.' It is so clear what's happening: we are in the process of invasion, occupation and annihilation of an independent democratic country."

Georgian officials have also accused Russian troops of seizing control of the central Georgian town of Gori, which is located just outside the boundary of South Ossetia. Russian officials have flatly denied that Russian troops are in the town. A reporter for the Reuters news agency, who was in Gori Monday, said he saw no trace of Russian troops.

Western nations have launched a series of appeals and diplomatic efforts to end the fighting, which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

Russian officials have taken a hard line and so-far declined a Georgian offer of a cease-fire. At the same time, Russian officials insist they have no plans to seize Georgian territory beyond the borders of the breakaway regions.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the leadership of Georgia to that of Saddam Hussein. President Dmitry Medvedev invoked Mr. Putin's earlier characterization of the Georgian military action as genocide.

Mr. Medvedev said, every effort should be made to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes, so that a criminal prosecution can be carried out.

The recent violence is the worst to break out since South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1992. South Ossetians are eager to join fellow Ossetians in North Ossetia, which was included within Russian borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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