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Shooting Breaks Ossetia Truce

TBILISI, Georgia — A Georgian peacekeeper was shot and wounded in South Ossetia early Saturday, a senior Georgian official said, just hours after negotiators agreed on a cease-fire to try and calm simmering tensions in the breakaway region.

The shooting followed three straight nights of gun and mortar fire, threatening to undermine efforts to defuse long-standing antagonism in the de facto independent region that broke away from Georgia's central government in a war in the early 1990s. South Ossetia wants to join Russia, but Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to peacefully restore his government's control over the region.

Georgy Khaindrava, Georgia's minister for conflict resolution, said the peacekeeper was hospitalized in critical condition after being shot by gunfire from a South Ossetian village at about 3 a.m.

However, a senior South Ossetian official, Boris Chochiyev, accused Georgian forces of firing first and breaking the cease-fire, which went into effect at midnight following agreement by a special joint commission in South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali.

The commission met again Saturday to discuss proposals to withdraw armed mercenary groups that both Georgia and South Ossetia have accused the other of supporting.

On Friday, Georgia's parliament called for suspending the mandate of Russian peacekeepers in the region, accusing Russia of taking sides. Lawmakers want Western peacekeepers to replace the Russians.

Some 500 Russian peacekeepers are serving along with Georgian and South Ossetian forces in the region.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Saturday rejected Georgian claims that Russian peacekeepers were taking sides in South Ossetia as "nonsense."

Saakashvili, meanwhile, accused forces of trying to drive ethnic Georgians from South Ossetia.

(The Moscow Times 16.viii.04)

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