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Georgia: Russia Trying To Seize More Land

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TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia accused Russia on Monday of trying to take more territory outside the breakaway province of South Ossetia as tensions rose before the first anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war last summer.

Georgia said Russian troops entered the village of Kveshi near South Ossetia on Sunday and erected posts in an attempt to mark a new border. Georgia said the posts, several hundred meters (yards) outside the boundary with South Ossetia, were removed Monday.

Russia and South Ossetia, which together patrol the region's de facto border with Georgia, countered that no forces had entered Kveshi and the posts – a temporary roadblock – had been erected within South Ossetian territory.

The situation near South Ossetia has become increasingly tense as the first anniversary of the war approaches on Aug. 7, with Georgia and Russia blaming each other for provocations and intentions to resume fighting.

"It's very alarming that as the first anniversary of the Russian aggression against Georgia comes close, Russia and its puppets are deliberately inciting tensions and behave defiantly," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.

But South Ossetia's spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva told The Associated Press that the border move was legitimate and rejected any land-grabbing ambitions.

"Let the Georgians relax about their territory. We don't need a single centimeter of their soil," Gagloyeva said.

Russia's top security agency, which patrols the boundary along with local troops, also denied any wrongdoing, according to a statement run by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

"Russian border guards did not enter the village of Kveshi," the Federal Security Service statement said, adding Tbilisi had been informed about the move.

Steve Bird, a spokesman for the European Union's observer mission in Georgia, said Russian border guards had assured them they had no plans to move a checkpoint to the area that had been briefly marked by the posts.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed the situation around South Ossetia in a phone call Sunday with William Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

"It was emphasized that it's necessary to prevent military provocations which could further destabilize the already explosive situation on the border," the ministry said in a statement.

The episode was among the latest in a series of claims and counterclaims between the two uneasy neighbors.

South Ossetia's separatist authorities said late Monday that three mortar rounds were fired into South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled territory. ITAR-Tass quoted the region's defense ministry as saying there were no casualties were reported. The ministry later told Interfax there was no retaliatory fire.

Officials of the region made similar claims last week, and accused Georgia of firing at populated areas near the provincial capital of Tskhinvali on two separate occasions. Georgian authorities dismissed those allegations and accused separatists of firing at Georgians. No one was hurt.

Meanwhile, Eduard Kokoity, South Ossetia's leader, told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency the breakaway region should "raise the issue" of reclaiming Georgian-controlled land that he insisted was historically Ossetian.

And South Ossetia's Gagloyeva said Monday that Russian troops would conduct military drills this week in the region.

The Russian Defense Ministry warned Georgia on Saturday that it "reserves the right to use all available forces and means to protect the citizens of South Ossetia and Russian servicemen" in case of further Georgian "provocations."

Georgian officials said that statement reflected Moscow's hostile intentions.

Temuri Yakobashvili, a Georgian Cabinet minister, reaffirmed that Georgia has no intention to use force. "There is no military solution to the conflict," he told the AP on Monday.

The August war began when Georgia launched an offensive to regain control over Moscow-backed South Ossetia. Russia quickly sent in thousands of troops and tanks that routed the Georgian military and drove deep into Georgia. A truce negotiated by the European Union ended five days of fierce fighting.

Georgian authorities claimed they had to launch the artillery barrage on Tskhinvali because Russian troops had moved into South Ossetia hours earlier. Moscow denied the claim and said it acted to protect its peacekeepers and civilians there.

After the war, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist region in Georgia, as independent nations and permanently deployed thousands of troops there.

The EU monitors are the only remaining international ones in Georgia, but they are blocked from traveling inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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