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War in the Caucasus: Russia Moves to Back South Ossetia against Georgia - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Georgian forces began bombarding the South Ossetian capital on Thursday night and are now closing in on the city. Russia has warned of unspecified consequences, but may have begun bombing Georgian villages.

For months, tension has been rising in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia on Russia's southern border. Late Thursday, the tension erupted into war, when Georgian ground forces, reinforced from the air, attacked separatist troops in an effort to re-establish control of the tiny region. Intense fighting has continued into Friday and there are reports of 15 civilian deaths, along with casualties among Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Friday that his army had "freed" parts of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. His prime minister, Lado Gurgenidze, said the offensive would continue until a "durable peace" had been established. A Georgian military leader said on TV that the operation aimed at "establishing a constitutional order in the region."

With Russia backing the South Ossetians, however, the violence threatens to become a larger regional war. Georgia has long said Russian "peacekeepers" stationed in South Ossetia were unwelcome. On Friday the Interior Ministry in Tibilisi claimed that three Russian jets flew into Georgian airspace and dropped bombs on the Georgian side of South Ossetia's border. Saakashvili said that several Georgian villages had been hit.

by Fran on Fri Aug 8th, 2008 at 06:29:12 AM EST

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