Author`s name Pravda.Ru

Is war looming in South Ossetia?

Further exchanges of gunfire were reported last night, and following reports that artillery had been used, Georgian defence minister Georgy Baramidze warned about "a real threat of war."

The rebellious region has posed a stiff challenge to president Mikhail Saakashvili, whose efforts to unite his fractured country have collided with South Ossetian hopes of joining Russia after more than a decade of de facto independence.

Georgian authorities said they would call for an international conference on the crisis - a move likely to irritate Russia.

Overnight exchanges of fire have persisted despite a cease-fire agreement reached on Friday, writes Scotsman.

RFE/RL informs that South Ossetia's Press and Information Committee head Irina Gagloeva said the deal was secured during a meeting between Georgian Defence Minister Giorgi Baramidze and his separatist counterpart, Anatolii Barankevich.

"The ministers of defense of South Ossetia and Georgia met this morning and agreed that Georgia's illegal armed units will be withdrawn from South Ossetia and that roadbocks [around ethnic Georgian villagers] will be removed," Gagloeva said.

Profindpages write that the Georgian Defence Minister has accused the peacekeepers from Russia of backing the separatists and that a number of mercenaries from Russia were fighting with the separatists.

Russia is very much in a no lose situation. If Georgia is unable to regain control of South Ossetia (which Mikhail Saakashvili has said he would do before his term ends), Russia will effectively increase its power in the region and the political situation in Georgia will become very unstable.

According to TOL, Saakashvili has invoked the image of a sustained South Ossetian campaign against ethnic Georgians, saying that "We must not allow for ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population or a humanitarian catastrophe." Prime Minister Zhvania has asserted that Ossetian separatists and their "Russian supporters" are trying to cut road links among Georgian villages.

According to the Georgian media, about 8,000 people live in eight Georgian villages in South Ossetia.

Much will depend on Russian President Vladimir Putin. So far, though, Putin has given no direct indications of his own thinking. Ceding any type of ground to Tbilisi could have important implications elsewhere for Russia, as Russian peacekeepers operate in two other areas where the fundamental questions are the same, Abkhazia and Transdniester. Abkhazia broke away from Georgia at the same time as South Ossetia, and its conflict poses the same, if not greater, difficulties, since fighting there was far bloodier and its population (about 250,000) is larger than in South Ossetia (roughly 100,000).