Georgia criticizes Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia

Georgia's parliamentary speaker on Tuesday strongly criticized Russian peacekeepers deployed in the breakaway region of South Ossetia, accusing them of siding with separatists and failing to help to settle the conflict. Parliament, meanwhile, will vote next week on a resolution calling on Russian forces to pull out from South Ossetia, a region bordering Russia that broke away from the central government during a war in the early 1990s.

"They are not fulfilling their function," Burdzhanadze said. "They are closing their eyes to the fact that there is a large quantity of heavy machinery in the region, constant violations of human rights, and that not one step is being made toward resolving the conflict." Later, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli briefed parliamentary leaders on the state of the peacekeeping forces, which also include Georgian and Ossetian troops. Afterward, he told reporters lawmakers would convene on Feb. 15 to vote on the resolution.

"Today, right now, we have in fact stepped significantly further back than we were in the middle of December," Nogaideli said. Some Georgian officials have called for replacing the peacekeeping forces with troops from Ukraine or even Baltic nations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been trying to resolve the conflict.

At a Moscow news conference, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity accused Georgia of "provocation and disinformation" and said there was no need for Russian forces to pull out. He also noted that most South Ossetians have been given Russian citizenship.

"In any case, the question of withdrawing the Russian peacekeepers is not up for discussion, and I think Russian peacekeepers will remain until the end and will defend the interests of the Russian citizens who live in the territory of South Ossetia," he said.

He also said that South Ossetia did not oppose having other nations take part in either peace negotiations or peacekeeping operations but hinted that troops from the United States, which has strongly supported Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and provided military aid, might not be welcome.

If the parliamentary resolution does pass, it will fuel tensions between the central government and the leadership of the unrecognized region, where there are regular outbreaks of violence and gunfire.

Underscoring the distrust between the Georgian and Russian sides in the region, fist fights broke out last week after Georgian police tried to impound a Russian peacekeepers' truck that had been involved in a traffic accident near South Ossetia. The foreign ministries and senior officials from both countries issued angry accusations following the Jan. 31 incident.

Ties between Moscow and Tbilisi have already been strained by Saakashvili's pro-Western policies, including an effort to join NATO. Later this spring, Georgian lawmakers are expected to take up a similar resolution about Russian peacekeepers in another breakaway region, Abkhazia. Saakashvili has vowed to bring both South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under central government control, reports the AP.

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