Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 13:59 UK

Russia vows to defend S Ossetia

A South Ossetian border post (image from 1 August)
Georgia has refused to accept South Ossetia's independence

Russia will intervene if conflict erupts in the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, a senior Russian diplomat has warned.

Special ambassador Yuri Popov said Russia would defend its citizens living in the conflict zone, Interfax reports.

At least six people have been killed in clashes in the region in recent days.

Georgia denies being behind the violence, and has taken journalists and diplomats to people's homes it says were damaged in separatist attacks.

The BBC's Matthew Collin said local people showed the visitors holes in their houses they said were made by rocket-propelled grenades.

One elderly man said a rocket had left him with a shrapnel wound. He said it was the worst violence in the region for years.

BBC map showing Georgia and its breakaway regions

The South Ossetian separatists blame Georgian forces for starting the fighting.

Russia, which has backed the separatists since they fought a war to break away from Georgia in the 1990s, said it would step in if violence escalated.

"If events develop according to the worst-case violence scenario, Russia will not allow itself to remain indifferent, considering that Russian citizens live in South Ossetia, particularly in the conflict zone," Interfax quotes Yuri Popov as saying.

"I don't want to make any grim predictions, but if such events are repeated, the situation may spiral out of control and lead to sad consequences," said Mr Popov, who heads the Russian delegation to a joint commission in South Ossetia.

Senior South Ossetian and Georgian officials are due to meet on Thursday, Mr Popov said.

'Evacuation' dispute

Mr Popov's comments come after South Ossetia's separatist government accused Georgia on Friday of killing six people and injuring seven in an attack on the outlying village of Satikari.

Families from South Ossetia outside buses bound  for Russia
Georgia disputes that children are being evacuated from the region

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity accused the country of "attempting to spark a full-scale war".

Georgia denied accusations that it initiated the mortar attack, saying that its troops had responded after coming under fire at a checkpoint.

Georgia has also condemned the alleged evacuation of South Ossetian children from the conflict zone.

A spokeswoman said the children were actually being sent to holiday camps, as they were every year, and that the separatists was using their youngsters as political propaganda.

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