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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Georgia wants Russian troops out
Russian troops in South Ossetia
Russian troops have a peacekeeping role in South Ossetia
Georgia's parliament has called for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping troops from the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The number of clashes has increased in recent days, including an attack on Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.

His convoy came under fire as he went to visit Georgian-populated villages in the region, but no one was hurt.

Officials from Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia have been holding talks in an effort to calm the situation.

The parliament vote on Friday was overwhelming, with 117 MPs calling for Russian troops to be replaced with international peacekeepers. Only three opposed the move.

Population: About 70,000
Capital: Tskhinvali
Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Orthodox Christianity
Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari

The MPs backed a non-binding resolution that said it was "unacceptable to entrust this peacekeeping mission to a country whose political interests run counter to any fair and final settlement".

It added: "In fact, the Russian Federation does not represent the peacekeepers or mediators.

"It represents one of the conflicting parties that is doing everything in its power to maintain this dangerous status quo."

The vote follows rising tension in the region. Georgia has sent more troops to the area.

At least five residents from the ethnic Georgian village of Eredvi were wounded during shooting from an Ossetian village on Friday.

'Ethnic cleansing'

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to assert control over South Ossetia, which wants to join Russia.

On Thursday, three Georgian soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire in the province.

South Ossetia said unspecified forces in the villages had fired first, and that 28 people were injured.

The BBC's Natalia Antelava says the Georgian government has promised to shelter women and children at a safe distance from what many see as a looming war.

She says it took the whole night of Thursday for the two sides to agree to start new peace talks on Friday. But many in the province are still sceptical about what they can achieve.

Mr Saakashvili has been pressing for the return of South Ossetia and fellow rebel province Abkhazia to Tbilisi's control since his election in January.

He said on Thursday that civilians in South Ossetia were at risk of "ethnic cleansing".

In an apparently veiled reference to Russia, he also warned against "external forces [planning] to drag Georgia into a large-scale armed conflict on its own territory".

Georgia reports deaths in clash
12 Aug 04  |  Europe
Regions and territories: South Ossetia
13 Jun 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Georgia
14 Jul 04  |  Country profiles

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