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'Gunfire' near convoy carrying Georgian and Polish presidents


Latest update : 2008-11-24

Shots were heard near a convoy carrying the Georgian and Polish presidents as it approached the breakaway region of South Ossetia, Georgian officials said. Both Russia and South Ossetia have denied involvement in the incident.

Gunfire broke out on Sunday on the South Ossetian de facto border after a convoy carrying the Georgian and Polish presidents approached, forcing them to turn back, officials said.
A spokeswoman for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russian troops manning a checkpoint on the boundary since a five-day war in August opened fire when the convoy approached.
The spokeswoman was not present at the scene, just south of the town of Akhalgori. A witness travelling with Saakashvili told Reuters that uniformed men who appeared to be South Ossetians fired shots into the air when officials began getting out of their cars.
Both Russia and South Ossetia strongly denied involvement.
Shaky television pictures were inconclusive. Automatic gunfire could be heard but it was unclear where from. No one was hurt and the convoy turned back.
"We heard machine-gun volleys about 30 metres from where I was," the Polish PAP news agency quoted Polish President Lech Kaczyinski as saying.
He later told a news conference: "I appeal from this spot to my friends in the European Union to draw the proper conclusions from this event before it is too late ... I do not regret that trip along that dark road."
Russia intervened in Georgia in August to repel a Georgian bid to retake breakaway South Ossetia from pro-Moscow separatists. Russian forces have pulled back from buffer zones into South Ossetian territory and a 225-strong EU mission is monitoring a fragile ceasefire.
Shortly after the incident, Polish Presidential Minister Michal Kaminski was quoted by Polish news agencies as saying: "We heard shots, we do not know what happened."
The de facto deputy Defence Minister of South Ossetia, Ibrahim Gassaev, denied South Ossetian security forces were behind the shooting. "The Georgian side is once again distributing misinformation," he was quoted as saying by the Russian Interfax news agency.
Interfax quoted a representative of the Russian peacekeeping force in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali as saying: "Allegations of Russian troops firing on the motorcade do not correspond to reality."

Date created : 2008-11-24