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Russian troops near S.Ossetia capital, 10 peacekeepers killed

RIA Novosti

08/08/2008 18:34 VLADIKAVKAZ, August 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russian troops are approaching the capital of breakaway South Ossetia to help peacekeepers amid a spiraling conflict with Georgia, which tried to regain control of the region Friday, a top military spokesman said.

Colonel Igor Konashenkov, an aide to the Russian Ground Forces commander, said around 10 Russian peacekeepers have been killed and 30 wounded in the province since Georgia launched a major offensive overnight using tanks, combat aircraft, heavy artillery and infantry.

"Units of the 58th Army have set off to help Russian peacekeepers, they are approaching Tskhinvali," Konashenkov said.

He said Georgian tanks are firing at the Russian peacekeeping headquarters.

"Georgian troops are shooting Russian peacekeepers and civilians at observation posts they have seized," he said. "Vicious fighting is going on in the area of Tskhinvali, where Georgian tanks are firing at the peacekeepers' headquarters and base from close by."

Earlier reports confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry said a convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles had entered Tskhinvali. Eyewitnesses said some 100 Russian tanks and armored vehicles crossed the Russian border.

Georgia's Interior Ministry said earlier Russian aircraft dropped two bombs near the Vaziani military airbase in a Tbilisi suburb, reporting no injuries. There was no immediate confirmation from Russia that it had sent bombers into the area.

Georgia's pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili, said in a television interview with CNN on Friday that Russia was fighting a war with his country.

And the country's Foreign Ministry called on the international community "to make it clear to Russia that invading a sovereign country's territory is unacceptable in the 21st century."

Senior Russian lawmakers and officials earlier urged a military operation to end the violence as the Russian-led peacekeeping contingent was insufficient to ensure peace in the region.

And Russia's president and premier vowed retaliation for what they called "the Georgian aggression" and punishment for those who kill Russian nationals in South Ossetia.

Separatist officials said Tskhinvali has suffered major destruction, and reported 15 civilian deaths. Georgia said three soldiers had been killed and about 17 wounded by separatist forces.

NATO, the European Union and the United States, a key ally of Georgia, all issued statements urging Georgia and South Ossetia to bring an end to the conflict.

There has been no Western reaction to the advance by Russian troops so far.

President Saakashvili, who is seeking NATO membership for Georgia, has pledged to bring South Ossetia, home to around 80,000 people, along with breakaway Abkhazia, back under central control, and has accused Russia of trying to annex the regions.

Russia has maintained its peacekeeping contingent in Georgia's breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, since the bloody post-Soviet conflicts in the early 1990s.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered humanitarian aid be provided to those affected by the conflict, the Kremlin said Friday.

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