S. Ossetia claims Georgia fired 2 mortar shells into territory

Russia says it's ready to use force to defend region; Georgia denies claim, suggests it's a provocation ahead of anniversary of last year's war.

Georgia fires rockets 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Georgia fires rockets 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Authorities in the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia claimed Saturday that two mortar shells had been fired into the territory from Georgia proper. Georgia denied the claim and suggested it was a provocation ahead of the anniversary of last year's war with Russia. Following the reported attack, the Russian Defense Ministry said it was ready to use force to defend South Ossetia. Russia recognizes the region as independent and has thousands of troops stationed there. South Ossetia's information ministry said no one was injured by the two mortar rounds that it said were fired from the Georgian hamlet of Ditsi toward a South Ossetian military observation post. The area is a few kilometers (miles) south of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Georgia's Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili, however, told The Associated Press: "There was no kind of firing from the Georgian side. Despite the calls (for restraint) by the European Union observer mission on the threshold of the anniversary of the August events, the Russian and Ossetian sides are striving to aggravate the situation." Georgia and Russia fought a brief but intense war sparked by a fierce Georgian rocket and artillery barrage of Tskhinvali on Aug. 8, 2008. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said the barrage was forced by Russia's sending in waves of troops to the Moscow-backed region, but Russia said it was an attempt to forcefully seize control of the region that had been de-facto independent since the mid-1990s. The war ended with Georgian forces being driven out of the parts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region. Although the war gutted Georgia's military, Russia contends Saakashvili still aims to take Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force, and Moscow has bitterly objected to other countries giving any kind of military aid to Georgia. The Defense Ministry said in a statement after the reported mortar attack: "In the event of further provocations that present a threat to the population of the republic or to Russian servicemen deployed on the territory of South Ossetia, the Russian Defense Ministry reserves the right to use all available forces and means to protect the citizens of South Ossetia and Russian servicemen."