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Reports: 6 die as Georgia shells South Ossetia

  • Story Highlights
  • Georgian official said South Ossetia had fired on Georgian villages first
  • Women, children, elderly being evacuated from the conflict zone
  • Georgia split by Russian-backed separatist movements in South Ossetia
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(CNN) -- Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the shelling of South Ossetia by Georgian forces, South Ossetian officials said Saturday, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

Officials of the breakaway Georgian region said the shelling was part of a Georgian military operation, Interfax reported.

Georgia initially suggested Russian peacekeepers were to blame, drawing heated denials from the Russian Defense Ministry, which called the allegation "dirty informational provocation."

Later, however, Mamuka Kurashvili, the commander of Georgian peacekeeping operations, told reporters that four people were wounded when several Georgian villages were fired upon from South Ossetia, and Georgia "had to return fire."

Women, children and the elderly were being evacuated from the conflict zone because of fears that Georgia would continue military operations against the region, according to the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee as reported by Interfax.

South Ossetia's government held a special session on the violence, the Russian news agency said.

"If Georgia continues provocative actions, we will announce the recruitment of volunteers not only in the North Ossetia but in the entire North Caucasus and also carry out general mobilization in South Ossetia," South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told Interfax.

Georgia, located on the Black Sea coast between Russia and Turkey, has been split by Russian-backed separatist movements in South Ossetia and another region, Abkhzia. Accusations often fly on both sides, and the South Ossetian leadership has alleged that Georgian troops stage attacks to create a pretext for military action.

South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in the early 1990s after a bloody war there between ethnic Georgians and Ossetians. The region's independence is not internationally recognized.

Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian troops participate in a mixed peacekeeping force there and have maintained a fragile peace broken occasionally by fighting.

On Friday, as reports of the shelling began, Russia expressed "its most serious concern about the escalation of tensions in South Ossetia." Moscow said it was taking measures to prevent escalation of the conflict as it urged both Georgia and South Ossetia to look for diplomatic ways to calm the situation.

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