Foreign Ministry Urges Calm Over S. Ossetia

APA Georgian soldier looking through a gun port in his fortified foxhole toward South Ossetian positions on Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry urged calm over the deepening conflict in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on Wednesday after rebels said they had destroyed government military vehicles.

Georgia swiftly denied any losses and claimed that villages under its control were being attacked by rebels.

"The current situation in South Ossetia is uneasy, and it needs measures to lower the confrontations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakov said, Itar-Tass reported.

The ministry said Tuesday that Russia would not be indifferent if there was further violence on its border, escalating a war of words in a region where Moscow and the West are vying for influence over vital energy-transit routes.

The ministry's statement Wednesday followed claims by separatists in South Ossetia that they had destroyed two government vehicles during a clash earlier in the day.

"We have information that two Georgian military vehicles have been blown up," Irina Gagloyeva, a representative of the South Ossetian authorities, told Interfax.

The Georgian Interior Ministry denied that two military vehicles had been destroyed.

"That's just absurd," spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.

He said South Ossetian separatists had opened fire on two Georgian-controlled villages and Georgian forces had returned fire.

Interfax reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry had announced emergency talks on the deteriorating situation in South Ossetia.

This was denied in a separate report by RIA-Novosti. When contacted by Reuters, the Foreign Ministry declined to make any comment.

Also Wednesday, the assistant commander of Russia's peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Vladimir Ivanov, accused Georgia of sending warplanes on eight missions over the region after taking off from the Georgian city of Gori on Tuesday evening.

Georgia, whose minister for reintegration is due to meet officials in South Ossetia on Thursday, denied that Georgian warplanes had flown over the rebel region.

"That's not true. It's another in a series of lies," Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said. "The separatists, together with the Russian peacekeepers, are trying to create an alternative reality."

Tensions between Georgia and the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have deepened in recent months, with fears that the once frozen conflicts could break out into open war.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after fighting wars against Tbilisi in the 1990s.

Both have financial and political support from Moscow, and the vast majority of locals have Russian citizenship.

Georgia is at the heart of the Caucasus, an unstable region hosting the only pipelines pumping gas and oil from the Caspian Sea to world markets without going through Russia.

South Ossetia is a mosaic of separatist-controlled territories centered on the regional capital, Tskhinvali and Georgian-populated villages loyal to Tbilisi scattered across the province. Russia has peacekeepers in the area.