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Alleged Shooting Fuels Tensions Between Moscow And Tbilisi

November 24, 2008

(RFE/RL) -- As Georgia marked the fifth anniversary of its Rose Revolution, tensions were again rising between Moscow and Tbilisi.

On November 23, Georgia accused Russian troops near the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia of firing on a convoy carrying Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Polish President Lech Kaczynski -- a claim firmly rejected by Moscow.

Saakashvili made the accusations at a news conference in Tbilisi just hours after the incident. "We had the 'pleasure' -- in inverted commas, of course -- to have a chance to see for ourselves how the 21st Century interventionists and occupiers had set up a border in the heart of Georgian land," Saakashvili said. "As we understood it, they were not pleased to see either our guest or myself, and they expressed their feelings in such a wild way."

Nobody was hurt in the incident. Kaczynski said it was unclear whether the shots were fired at the convoy or into the air. But he urged the international community to take action.

"Of course, this is proof that any statements that claim that the six-point plan has been implemented are wrong," Kaczynski said. "Speaking here, I would like to appeal to my friends from the European Union, the United States, and other NATO states which are not members of the European Union, to acknowledge what happened and draw conclusions before it is too late."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied any responsibility and shrugged off the Georgian accusations as a "provocation" to discredit Russia and its South Ossetian allies.

"It's not the first time something like this has happened; they organize everything themselves and then blame the Russian or Ossetian side," Lavrov said late on November 23 during an official visit to Peru. "Inviting the [Polish] president to Tbilisi and then taking him for a car ride to a different country -- isn't that a provocation?" he added.

The alleged shooting took place near the disputed Akhalgori area, which was controlled by Georgia before it went to war with Russia in August over the rebel region.

Tbilisi says the presence of Russian and South Ossetian forces in the Akhalgori area violates the terms of a French-brokered cease-fire that called for a return to positions occupied by both sides before the conflict.


Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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