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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechens Killed in S. Ossetia

TBILISI, Georgia -- Police in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region killed four Chechen "saboteurs" on Tuesday.

Officials suggested the four men had been recruited by the federal government in Tbilisi to stir up trouble ahead of an independence referendum.

South Ossetia's emergency minister, Boris Chochiyev, corrected an earlier statement in which he identified the dead as Georgians.

South Ossetia threw off Georgian rule in fighting in the early 1990s. Though a cease-fire was signed, violence has simmered on and tension has risen since the fiery pro-Western Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was elected in 2004.

The region will hold a referendum Nov. 12 which is expected to confirm independence from Georgia and give a boost to its aspirations to be absorbed into Russia.

"We found out that the saboteurs were Chechens and not Georgians. They got into the territory of South Ossetia from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge," Chochiyev said, referring to the valley gorge in northeast Georgia.

"We know that Georgians recruit Chechens for terrorist acts in South Ossetia," he said.

Many Chechen refugees still live in the Pankisi Gorge after fleeing the war that erupted between Chechen separatists and the federal government in the mid 1990s.