Georgia, South Ossetia bomb one another with jets; many dead

Georgia Materials 8 August 2008 09:57 (UTC +04:00)

The Georgian government and separatists in its region of South Ossetia deployed fighter jets to carry out bombings on one another Friday after a ceasefire declared by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was broken after a few hours, a news report said.

Many civilians were killed in the airstrikes, Russia's Interfax news agency reported, citing South Ossetia's Health Ministry, the dpa reported.

The South Ossetia side for the first time deployed two Suchoi SU-25 fighter jets to bomb Georgian positions, and a short time later, Georgia sent five of the same jets to carry out attacks in South Ossetia, Interfax said.

Unconfirmed reports said at least 15 people, primarily civilians, were killed in the South Ossetia capital of Tskhinvali alone.

Abkhazia, another separatist region of Georgia, offered military aid to South Ossetia while Russia, which is closely allied with South Ossetia, called for both sides to act rationally.

Television footage showed heavy rocket bombardments in the small mountain region in the South Caucasus.

The Georgian government accused South Ossetia fighters of breaking the ceasefire overnight, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said.

South Ossetia separatists resumed shooting at Georgian villages late Thursday, causing deaths and injuries, the government in Tbilisi said in a statement carried by the agency.

It said it was forced to take steps to protect the people in the region and prevent further gunfire. At the same time, it called on the South Ossetia side to halt the fighting, which began at the weekend, and return to negotiations.

Georgian forces had "nearly surrounded" Tskhinvali, Reintegration Minister Temuri Yakobashvili said early Friday from Tiblisi on radio broadcasts.

"We don't desire demolitions or victims, so we again offer the separatist leaders to begin direct talks over a ceasefire and de-escalation of the situation in the conflict zone," he said.

Yakobashvili added that five villages that had been under South Ossetia control had been taken over by Georgian forces.

Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia fought wars of independence against Tbilisi in the early 1990s but have not been recognized by any other country. Since 1994, they have been occupied under a UN deal by peacekeepers from Russia.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the latest fighting in a statement issued Thursday in New York and urged warring parties to refrain from action that could endanger stability in their region.

European Union chief foreign policy adviser Javier Solana also expressed worry in a talk with Saakashvili Thursday about the worsening situation in South Ossetia.

In a statement issued by Solana in Brussels, he said he urged the president to do everything in his power to quickly end the violence and open peaceful discussions between the conflicting parties.

Saakashvili ordered a ceasefire by his troops Thursday, calling it a "painful order."

"Immediately cease fire, please," he told the separatists in a televised address. "We do not want to return fire. We have been tolerating this for so many years. Please, do not test the Georgian state's patience."