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S.Ossetia says will retaliate if Georgia continues with attacks

RIA Novosti

07/08/2008 10:20 TSKHINVALI, August 7 (RIA Novosti) - South Ossetia's leader said on Thursday the breakaway republic will attack Georgian troops if they continue to shell Tskhinvali and nearby villages or attempt to seize its territory.

The conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia intensified last Friday night when Georgian forces shelled the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, leaving six South Ossetians dead and another 15 wounded. Sporadic shelling and skirmishes have continued through the week.

"We are prepared to end [Georgian] attempts to annex our territory," Eduard Kokoity told reporters. "If the shelling does not stop ... we will start 'to mop up' plateaus where Georgian troops are stationed."

He said retaliatory attacks could be launched as early as this afternoon.

Kokoity said Georgia had amassed most of its heavy weaponry in the conflict zone and attempted to seize high ground over a strategically important road overnight.

"Our intelligence spotted a convoy of at least 20 tanks and a large number of self-propelled artillery," he said, adding that at least 26 152-mm howitzers had been deployed earlier by Georgia near Tskhinvali and had been fired at South Ossetian territory.

Meanwhile, Georgian Interior Ministry reported on Thursday that South Ossetia had continued to shell five Georgian villages overnight wounding at least two Georgian police officers and damaging houses and military infrastructure.

Both sides repeatedly stated they were ready for talks under the established four-party format, which consists of negotiators from Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and Russia's North Ossetia region. However, the escalating violence in the conflict zone makes this prospect unlikely.

Georgia has earlier dismissed widespread fears that war will break out in the region, and accused South Ossetia and Russia, which tacitly supports the province, of attempts to rekindle the frozen conflict.

South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway republic, Abkhazia, broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, gaining de facto independence after bloody conflicts with Tbilisi.

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