New shooting reported in Georgia's South Ossetia

Georgia Materials 8 August 2008 06:28 (UTC +04:00)

The capital of the separatist South Ossetia region came under heavy fire early Friday, just hours after Georgia's president declared a cease-fire following days of sporadic fighting, news reports and the rebel government said.

"The assault is coming from all directions," said a brief statement on the separatist government's Web site. Government officials for South Ossetia and Georgia could not be reached by The Associated Press.

In a report from Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Ivanov, an official in a Russian peacekeeping force, as saying the fire included salvos by truck-launched Grad rockets. The RIA-Novosti agency said its correspondent in Tskhinvali heard explosions.

A week of skirmishes and escalating tensions in South Ossetia has raised fears of an all-out war that could draw in Russia, which has close ties with South Ossetia's separatist leadership and is accused by Georgia of provoking the recent clashes.

On Thursday evening, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili announced a unilateral cease-fire in a television broadcast during which he urged South Ossetian leaders to enter talks on resolving the conflict.

He also proposed that Russia could become a guarantor of wide-ranging autonomy for South Ossetia, if the region remains under Georgian control. Georgian officials have alleged that the Kremlin provoked the recent clashes.

South Ossetia agreed to hold fire until a meeting Friday between its deputy prime minister and Georgia's top envoy for separatist issues, Russian news agencies said, citing the head of the peacekeeping force in the region, Marat Kulakhmetov.

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity blamed Georgia for the recent fighting and called Saakashvili's cease-fire call a "despicable and treacherous" ruse, Interfax reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that "the actions by Georgia in South Ossetia bear witness to the fact that the leadership of that country can no longer be trusted," the agency said.

Heavy shelling overnight Wednesday in South Ossetia killed at least one person and wounded 22, officials said Thursday. It was some of the most severe fighting reported since Aug. 1, when six people were reported killed in firing around Tskhinvali.

Most of South Ossetia, which is roughly 1.5 times the size of Luxembourg, has been under the control of a separatist government since a war there ended in 1992. Georgian troops hold several parts of the region.