Georgia, South Ossetia clashes kill 15 (Lead)

August 8th, 2008 - 2:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Aug 8 (Xinhua) Georgian armed forces traded gunfire with militants of the breakaway region of South Ossetia near the regional capital Tskhinvali Friday, killing at least 15 people, news reports said. Georgian forces shelled Tskhinvali killing 15 people and occupying five villages, the Interfax news agency reported.

The new round of conflicts broke out only hours after Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he was offering South Ossetia a ceasefire following days of clashes.

He urged South Ossetian separatist leaders to join talks on resolving the conflict. South Ossetia had also agreed to hold fire until talks.

But a Georgian government statement said South Ossetia launched attacks on Georgian villages Thursday evening and Georgian troops were forced to take action to restore order.

Georgian Su-25 attack planes have conducted a bombing strike on the South Ossetian village of Kvernet and a humanitarian aid convoy that was heading for Tskhinvali from North Ossetia, the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee said.

According to the committee, “by Friday morning the shelling of Tskhinvali intensified and fighting with the use of heavy firepower equipment is underway in the city and its surroundings”.

Georgia’s Minister for Reintegration Temuri Yakobashvili said troops have almost surrounded Tskhinvali.

“We don’t desire demolitions or victims, so we again offer the separatist leaders to begin direct talks over ceasefire and de-escalation of the situation in the conflict zone,” Yakobashvili was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

The minister confirmed local television reports that “another five villages in the conflict zone, which earlier were under Tskhinvali’s control, have been taken by Georgia.”

“The situation in the conflict zone was difficult,” he said.

Boris Malakhov, deputy spokesman of the Russian foreign ministry, said Moscow believed it was still possible to avoid a massive bloodshed in South Ossetia.

Speaking on Russian television, Malakhov urged Georgian authorities to “think again and return to civilised means of solving complex issues of the political order.”

He also called on the international community to be involved to resolve the conflict, saying it is “important to stop violence that may bring the most serious results for the regional and international security.”

Russia “will continue efforts to stop further bloodshed and bring the situation in South Ossetia to the course of peace”, he added.

South Ossetia has asked the Russian leadership to take measures to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia.

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