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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South Ossetia Blocks a Georgian Official

South Ossetia on Wednesday turned back a Georgian official trying to retrieve three detained special services officers, a Georgian Cabinet member said, sharpening already high tensions.

The move prompted a Georgian delegation to refuse to attend a Moscow meeting of a commission aimed at resolving the conflict over South Ossetia, which has been de facto independent since a 1992 truce ended separatist fighting.

The three Georgian agents detained Sunday were allegedly carrying detailed maps of South Ossetia and lists of people in the region who "could provide help to Tbilisi," Interfax reported, citing a South Ossetian security source.

Georgia sent a senior security official to Tskhinvali, the South Ossetia capital, Wednesday to retrieve them, but he was rebuffed and driven out of the city, Georgy Khaindrava, Georgia's minister of conflict settlement, said in Moscow.

"We will not open the commission's session until this issue is resolved, and until we understand what is going on," Khaindrava was quoted by Interfax as saying. "It makes no sense to have negotiations on a peace process because this process should imply steps toward lessening tension rather than forcing the situation."

The commission meeting, involving representatives from South Ossetia, Georgia, Russia and the Russian region of North Ossetia, had been scheduled to open Wednesday in Moscow. The meetings provide one of the key forums for Georgia and South Ossetia to talk, and it is unusual for the Georgians to boycott them.

Tensions in the region have risen sharply in recent weeks. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to restore Georgian control over South Ossetia.

Georgia briefly sent troops into the region last month, and South Ossetian authorities blocked the motorcade of Saakashvili's wife and refused entry to the Georgian agriculture minister.

Saakashvili is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Friday for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Their talks are expected to focus on South Ossetia.

About 80 percent of the residents of South Ossetia use Russian passports, and the Russian ruble is the currency of choice. Although Russia does not officially recognize South Ossetia's government, it has close ties with the region, and in recent weeks it has frequently sharply criticized Georgia's actions as provocative.

Khaindrava said that Georgia "is ready to give South Ossetia as much sovereignty as it needs, but it's a matter of negotiations, foremost between Georgia and Russia," Interfax reported.