ISTANBUL - TDN with wire dispatches
Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia on Friday mobilized reservists and threatened to use heavy weapons against Georgian forces after two people were killed in heavy exchanges of fire overnight.
Neither Tbilisi nor the separatists admitted violating a ceasefire, blaming the hostilities on one another.
Quoting the rebel region's officials, Russia's Vesti-24 channel said Georgia had started bombarding the separatist capital Tskhinvali with mortar shells at about midnight on Thursday. "Then intensive gunfire followed," it reported.
The channel ran video footage of wounded people being operated on in a Tskhinvali hospital.
"This is a well-planned provocation staged by the Georgian side," separatist leader Eduard Kokoity said in a statement broadcast by Vesti-24, as reported by Reuters. "It shows Georgia does not intend to resolve peacefully the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia."
South Ossetia said it had mobilized its reservists after the overnight hostilities, Interfax news agency quoted the region's spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva as saying.
Meanwhile Russia urged Georgia to guarantee with a legal document that its armed forces would not use force in its breakaway regions, after clashes between soldiers and separatists killed two people in South Ossetia.
Moscow demanded a peace pact after the mobilization of reservists by the separatists, who threatened to use heavy weapons against Georgian forces after the two people were killed in heavy exchanges of fire overnight.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed grave concern over a clash in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, calling on Georgia not to use violence, Interfax news agency reported.
"We are seriously concerned by the latest events in South Ossetia.... We must persuade Tbilisi to sign a legally binding document guaranteeing non-aggression," Lavrov was quoted as saying, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also expressed serious concern over violence in the Georgian rebel region of South Ossetia and urged all sides to stabilize the situation.
Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions broke away from central rule during wars against Tbilisi during the 1990s. Russia, which has peacekeepers in both unrecognised republics, has provided moral and financial support for the rebels.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who wants his ex-Soviet Caucasus state to join NATO and the European Union, sees the re-integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a top priority.
"We call on the Georgian side to see reason and pull out their forces," Kokoity said. "Otherwise, we will take a decision to introduce heavy machinery and offensive weapons to terminate all the units illegally deployed in the conflict zone."
Tbilisi said it did not believe Kokoity's threats would materialize.
"This is absolutely inadmissible. If this happens, this will be a violation of all existing (ceasefire) agreements," said Shota Utiashvili, as official in the Georgian Interior Ministry.
Mamuka Kurashvili, commander of Georgia's peacekeeping battalion in the conflict zone, told Reuters the Georgian side had been forced to return fire after the separatists launched heavy bombardment on several local Georgian villages.
He said he had no information about any fatalities on the Georgian side.