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Troops and Rebels Fight in Georgia

August 20, 2004|From Associated Press

TSKHINVALI, Georgia — Explosions and gunfire echoed in this regional capital Thursday as government troops battled South Ossetian separatists for key hills outside town.

Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili said government forces had captured hills overlooking a road that links ethnic Georgian villages with the rest of the country, but officials in breakaway South Ossetia disputed that.

South Ossetia's military chief said three civilians were killed by Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali on Thursday. Georgian officials reported that three soldiers had died overnight, and they claimed to have killed eight "Cossack mercenaries."

Both sides said government troops began pulling back after nightfall, and Georgia's president offered to withdraw all forces if fighting stopped.

The Interfax news agency quoted Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze as saying Georgian forces had moved to Gori, a city south of the region.

South Ossetia has controlled its own territory since an 18-month war ended in 1992, after killing hundreds. But tensions have worsened between the two sides since the January election of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who vows to reunite his fractured country.

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