Six people from Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia were killed Friday by sniper and mortar fire from Georgian positions, the rebel province’s government said.
“Six people have been killed and seven have been wounded” after Georgian forces fired on the rebel capital Tskhinvali with rifles and mortars, the rebel government said in a statement posted on its website.
Lana Parasayeva, a spokeswoman for the rebel government, told AFP that three members of South Ossetia’s security forces were killed and four injured by sniper fire from Georgian positions.
Georgian forces later opened fire on Tskhinvali with heavy weapons, the rebels said, killing another three civilians and wounding three more.
“A mortar platoon of the Georgian Defence Ministry is purposefully shelling the southern part of Tskhinvali. The northern outskirts of the city are being fired upon as well,” the rebel government said in a statement on its website. “The South Ossetian side has started returning fire.”
South Ossetia’s de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, told Interfax news agency that “our response to Tbilisi’s aggressive actions will be very tough and hard-hitting.
“We reserve the right to strike Georgian cities. We have something that can reach them,” he said.
Georgian Interior Ministry Spokesman Shota Utiashvili denied that Georgian positions had fired first.
“The Ossetians opened fire, including with grenade launchers, and the Georgian side only returned fire,” he told AFP, adding that only Georgian police, not military forces, had been involved.
He also denied that Tskhinvali had come under sniper fire, saying “there are no Georgian snipers in South Ossetia.”
There were no reports of casualties among Georgian forces, he said.
Fighting in South Ossetia, a small mountainous region that broke away from Georgian control during a war in the early 1990s, often flares up during the summer months.
Tensions over South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, have soared in recent months since Moscow announced it was establishing formal ties with the separatists.
Unrest increased further last month with a series of bombings in Abkhazia, which the Abkhaz leadership blamed on Georgia, and Moscow’s admission that it had sent military jets on flights over South Ossetia.