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S. Ossetia says Georgian refugees unable to return to region

RIA Novosti

15/08/2008 11:54 MOSCOW, August 15 (RIA Novosti) - Georgian refugees, who live in South Ossetia and fled the region during last week's fighting, will not be allowed to return to their homes in the breakaway region, the president of South Ossetia said on Friday.

"We are not planning to let anyone in anymore. More than 18,000 South Ossetian refugees, who live in Georgia, fled and are now in North Ossetia. We need them to return to South Ossetia," Eduard Kokoity said in an interview with Kommersant daily.

Kokoity and the Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh signed a peace plan in Moscow at a meeting with the Russian president earlier Thursday. The French-brokered peace agreement, approved by Russia and Georgia Tuesday, requires an immediate ceasefire and troop withdrawal.

Kokoity also said that when Georgia launched its military offensive on South Ossetia practically all Georgian civilians had left their villages in South Ossetia and any remaining civilians were allowed to leave through a humanitarian corridor.

Kokoity said most of the villages, where Georgians lived prior to the conflict, "had been virtually flattened."

"Should we let them return so they can shoot us in the back again and humiliate our people? The president said, adding that a South Ossetian border had been established.

Asked about allegations of looting of Georgian villages Kokoity said "It is a consequence of any war, any aggression. We are treating all cases severely."

Earlier Kokoity said during a press conference with the Abkhaz leader in Moscow that no Georgian peacekeepers or international observers would be allowed in South Ossetia.

"Only Russian peacekeepers will be allowed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia," he said. "There will be no Georgian peacekeepers on South Ossetian territory."

As a result of Georgia's military offensive, South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, was mostly destroyed. According to Russian figures, around 1,600 civilians and 18 peacekeepers were killed.

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