MOSCOW (AP) – Police in South Ossetia are under orders to shoot back if they come under fire from Georgian forces – a directive that could increase the threat of new violence in the Russian-backed separatist region.
South Ossetia’s top police official issued the order Saturday after a police post came under automatic weapons fire Saturday from an ethnic Georgian village, the separatist government said on its Web site.
Acting Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzayev said nobody was hurt by the gunfire but he called it part of a series of provocations by Georgians forces.
“We will not allow our people and our officers to be killed,” Mindzayev said in a statement on the site.
Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili denied Georgian forces fired at a South Ossetian post and said Nikozi came under fire early Saturday from South Ossetian-controlled territory.
The order came amid persistent tension along the edges of the breakaway region at the heart of the August war between Georgia and Russia.
South Ossetia’s government also criticized European Union monitors patrolling Georgian territory outside South Ossetia after Russian forces withdrew this month under a cease-fire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The separatist government accused the monitors of bias and claimed they are turning a blind eye to alleged Georgian cease-fire violations.
“The tendentiousness of the of the international observers is obvious,” South Ossetia’s president, Eduard Kokoity, said in a statement. “Georgia is violating the (cease-fire) with its actions while these international observers watch silently.”
Georgia, in turn, has accused South Ossetia and Russia of cease-fire violations.
The five-day war in August followed years of growing tension between Russia and Georgia, whose pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili has wooed Washington and pushed for NATO membership. Russia, meanwhile, gave increasing support to South Ossetia and another separatist province, Abkhazia.
By STEVE GUTTERMAN