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South Ossetia denies talks with Tbilisi

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, August 6
A senior Georgian official announced yesterday he would meet directly with South Ossetian separatist authorities, though whether the talks would go forward is unclear after separatist authorities denied the plan.

Georgia’s top official for conflict issues, Temur Iakobashvili, told reporters he had agreed to bilateral talks tomorrow in de facto secessionist capital Tskhinvali outside of a talks format which Tbilisi opposes.

“It will not be a meeting in the frames of the Joint Control Commission, it will be a two-sided meeting with a representative from the Russian side,” Iakobashvili said.

But hours later, separatist representatives said there would be no such meeting.

“South Ossetian side was always for the continuation of the negotiations process, but only within the existing four-side format of the Joint Control Commission,” said a South Ossetian statement.

The Joint Control Commission is a conflict negotiations format for South Ossetia which includes Georgian, Russia, North Ossetian and South Ossetian representatives. Tbilisi pulled out of the talks last year, saying the format favors Russia, and proposed a new arrangement with international organizations and a Tbilisi-backed alternative South Ossetian government.

Iakobashvili, the Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Issues, also summarized a preliminary report on the August 1–2 clashes that took six lives and injured many more in South Ossetia.

He said the report found that South Ossetia militia used banned large-caliber weapons when shelling Georgian-controlled villages.

The report is signed by the chief Russian peacekeeper as well as Georgian, South Ossetian and OSCE representatives, he said, and does not mention any use of large-caliber weapons by Georgian troops.

“This is a very important document, which confirms the statements of the Georgian side. The document proves that the accusations—that Georgian side opened fire first and shelled peaceful areas in Tskhinvali and threatened open war—are faked,” he said.

Iakobashvili repeated Georgian calls for joint monitoring of the Roki Tunnel, a passage through the Russian border now within secessionist-controlled South Ossetian territory, and, Georgians say, a transit point for illegal weaponry.

Washington backed the Georgian stance on August 4.

US State Department deputy spokesman Gonzalo R. Gallegos, addressing the South Ossetian violence, said: “These incidents underscore the need for an immediate increase in the number of OSCE monitors in South Ossetia, as well as joint Georgian-Russian monitoring of the Roki Tunnel to stem the flow of illicit arms, ammunition, and armed groups into the region.”

A Georgian Foreign Ministry statement yesterday said 300 “terrorists holding Russian citizenship” have crossed the border into South Ossetia, a sign “that the Tskhinvali regime has obviously stepped up war preparations.”

Russian media reports in the last few days say that Cossacks, North Ossetian residents and other Russian citizens are preparing to take up arms and travel to South Ossetia to fight if needed.