Accessibility links

US Urges End to Flare-Up of Violence in South Ossetia - 2004-08-12

The United States is in diplomatic contact with the Georgian and Russian governments, seeking an end to the flare-up of violence in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. Georgian and separatist forces in the area traded heavy gunfire for a second day Thursday.

The United States has been using its good relations with both Georgia and Russia to try to ease the situation in South Ossetia, and officials say new appeals were made to government officials in Tbilisi and with the Russian embassy in Washington amid the latest fighting.

Reports from the area say three Georgian soldiers were killed and at least 40 South Ossetians wounded in two days of clashes in the South Ossetian regional capital and nearby towns.

The region, which borders Russian territory and has a large Russian population, has been semi-independent since a separatist conflict in the early 1990s.

The government of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast, back under central control.

The United States has strongly supported Mr. Saakashvili and the principle of Georgian territorial integrity. At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said U.S. officials expressed condolences to Georgian officials over the casualties among their security forces, while also urging both Tbilisi and Moscow to work to end the fighting.

"We are urging Georgian officials to move quickly to avoid further conflict. We're also making the point with Russian officials that it's important to work with the South Ossetian authorities to end hostilities immediately. I would also note that Russia has called for an emergency meeting of the Joint Control Commission, and we support that call," he said.

The joint control commission was created in 1992 after the earlier conflict and includes representatives from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and the Russian region of North Ossetia.

Russia has maintained a peacekeeping force in the area under a cease-fire arrangement, though Georgia has said it is disproportionately large.

Local authorities in South Ossetia allege that this week's fighting was the beginning of a "well planned aggression" by the Tbilisi government, while Georgian officials denied an attack and accused South Ossetians of shelling villages populated by ethnic-Georgians.

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the South Ossetia and Abkhazia tensions only a week ago in a meeting here with Mr. Saakashvili, saying the United States was eager to help calm the situation down and avoid provocations by the various parties.