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Page last updated at 22:13 GMT, Saturday, 2 August 2008 23:13 UK

South Ossetia evacuates children

Map of Georgia

The breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia says it is evacuating children to neighbouring Russia, amid renewed violence.

The authorities said they had started to put children on buses to take them out of the conflict zone, but it is not clear how many children have left.

Georgia said the decision was worrying, as it could be a sign the separatists were preparing for more violence.

Six people died on Friday when South Ossetia's capital came under fire.

The Russian-backed separatists and the Georgian authorities blamed each other for starting the fighting.

Tensions have risen in South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia, after Russia announced it would establish official links with the separatists.

Georgia's government says Russia is supporting and inciting the separatists to create instability as part of its attempts to stop Georgia joining Nato, says the BBC's Matthew Collin in Tbilisi.

It also accuses Russia of acting to maintain the Kremlin's influence in this former Soviet region, our correspondent says.

'Full-scale war'

The separatists said three of their militiamen were killed by Georgian sniper fire and three civilians died when the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali was shelled on Friday night.

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity accused Georgia of "attempting to spark a full-scale war", and said he was ready to mobilise volunteer fighters if the situation deteriorated further.

The Georgian interior ministry told the BBC that the separatists had provoked the violence by opening fire first, and troops had responded.

It said snipers were not involved and that populated areas were not shelled.

A South Ossetian border post (image from 1 August)
Georgia has expressed concern at the latest developments

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili also said that South Ossetian forces had blown up a Georgian police car with a mine earlier on Friday, injuring six policemen.

Friday's overnight fighting was the worst violence in South Ossetia for several years.

Skirmishes have erupted frequently along the border, with the two sides accusing each other of starting them.

South Ossetia fought a war to break away from Georgia during the collapse of the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s.

It has remained de facto independent, backed by Russia which has about 1,000 peacekeeping troops stationed there.

Georgia has been seeking to restore its control over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


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