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Rice Calls on Russia to Help Resolve Tensions in Georgia

By VOA News
10 July 2008

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Russia should help resolve rising tensions in neighboring Georgia rather than contribute to disagreements between the Tbilisi government and its breakaway regions.

The secretary spoke Thursday in the Georgian capital, alongside Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, a key U.S. ally in the Caucasus region.

Rice faults Moscow for stoking tensions in Georgia's two breakaway border regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian-backed separatists are active and where recent military skirmishes have grown increasingly violent.

Russia insists its role is limited to peacekeeping in the region, and contends the Georgian government is fueling tensions.

Rice also met with Georgian opposition leaders, including the former presidential candidate, Levan Gachechiladze, whom Mr. Saakashvili defeated in January.

Ahead of Rice's arrival, Georgian authorities accused four Russian military planes of violating the country's airspace.

Russia acknowledged Thursday that fighter planes flew over South Ossetia, and said the action was taken to prevent Georgian ground troops from attacking separatists. Moscow's Foreign Ministry described the overflights on Tuesday as "urgent and effective measures to prevent bloodshed" in the breakaway territory.

Separately, Georgian authorities say four separatists were killed in a gun battle with Georgian troops in Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge. Several Georgian troops were reported wounded.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s, sparking fighting and the dispatch of Russian peacekeepers to the region. Georgia has insisted it will restore central government control in the breakaway areas.

Rice is on a four-day European tour that has already taken her to Prague and the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.


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