TBILISI, Georgia – Hundreds of ethnic Georgians confronted Russian peacekeeping forces in the breakaway region of South Ossetia on Thursday, throwing paint and gasoline on the troops and forcing them to stop blocking a road project, officials said.
The incident near the ethnic Georgian village of Tsunar highlighted tensions persisting in South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgian control during a war in the early 1990s.
Georgia’s government has vowed to bring South Ossetia, and the region of Abkhazia, back under control. South Ossetia has cultivated close ties with Russia, however, and Georgia accuses Moscow of siding with the separatists.
Several dozen Russian peacekeepers deployed armored vehicles Wednesday near the village of Tsunar, where workers were building a bypass road to several villages.
“This is good when roads are built, but this should be done with a decision by the Joint Control Commission,” Gen. Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the joint peacekeeping forces, said in comments broadcast Thursday.
Residents from three villages mobbed the peacekeepers Thursday, demanding they allow the construction to continue. Irina Gagloyeva, a spokeswoman for South Ossetia’s unrecognized government, said villagers then threw paint on the Russian armored personnel carriers and gasoline on a nearby peacekeeper post.
Russian television broadcast footage showing vehicles and soldiers spattered with paint and villagers whacking personnel carriers with sticks and shovels and waving Georgian flags.
The Russians withdrew after Georgian troops arrived at the scene with armored personnel carriers, said Col. Mamuka Kurashvili, the Georgian peacekeeper commander.
The South Ossetian government also reported small weapons fire in several Georgian-controlled villages surrounding Tskhinvali late Thursday. Kurashvili, however, denied the reports.