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Official: Ossetian militants enter Georgia village

About 70 militants from the breakaway province of South Ossetia illegally entered a village in Georgia, Georgian officials said Sunday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

About 70 militants from the breakaway province of South Ossetia illegally entered a village in Georgia, Georgian officials said Sunday.

The European Union's observer mission in Georgia voiced concern about the situation, saying the move could exacerbate tensions in the area.

South Ossetia's separatist leader, Eduard Kokoity, said that part of the village is located in South Ossetia and its forces legitimately entered it, the Interfax news agency reported.

Shota Utiashvili, a spokesman for Georgia's Interior Ministry, said the armed militants began to enter Perevi, a village of about 1,000 people, on Saturday. It sits on the western border of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Some villagers flee, fearing violence
Utiashvili said that the gunmen had not attacked civilians, but some of the village residents fled fearing violence. He said that Georgian authorities have protested the intrusion to the European Union observers who are deployed in Georgia to monitor a French-brokered truce that ended Russia's war with Georgia in August.

The EU observer mission said in a statement that the presence of South Ossetian forces in the village would "further exacerbate tensions to the detriment of the civilian population."

The complaint about the militants highlighted tensions that are still running high in the region after the Russian troops pullout from their positions outside South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. Russia has insisted it has fully met its pledge under the peace deal, but Georgia has accused the Kremlin of breaking its commitments by failing to withdraw from areas which had been under Georgian control before the war.

Utiashvili said about 50 South Ossetian militants moved into Perevi on Saturday as the Russian military started to pull out troops from its checkpoint in the village.

He said that about 10 Russian soldiers remained in the village on Sunday evening, while the number of South Ossetian militants had grown to about 70.

But Utiashvili dismissed Kokoity's claim that the village lies partly in South Ossetia. The EU observer mission also said that Perevi is "clearly located to the west of the administrative boundary line of South Ossetia."

The Georgia-Russia war erupted on Aug. 7, when Georgia launched an attack to regain control over South Ossetia, which broke from Georgian control in the early 1990s. Russian forces swiftly repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia in five days of fighting.

After the brief war, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations and plans to keep 3,800 troops in each region — a much bigger presence than before the war.