The demilitarization process in South Ossetia, one of Georgia's renegade regions, is a mere two-weeks old, but it is already showing signs of fraying. A shooting incident on November 19 left two Georgia peacekeepers wounded. Meanwhile, Tbilisi has indicated that Georgian and South Ossetian forces would not be about to meet the established deadline for demilitarization.
The November 19 shooting incident occurred near the Georgian village of Tsveriakho within South Ossetia, the Rustavi-2 television channel reported. A local police chief blamed South Ossetian militants for the incident. "It is for sure that the Ossetian side opened fire because the position from where the shots were fired is under the South Ossetian side's control," the police chief, Alexandr Sukhitashvili, told the television station. According to various reports, gunfire exchanges between Georgian troops and South Ossetian militia are an almost nightly occurrence.
The shootings are straining the November 5 deal to promote demilitarization in South Ossetia. [For background information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. On November 18, South Ossetian authorities denied an allegation made by Georgian Conflict Resolution Minister Georgi Khaindrava that Russia was continuing to provide arms and munitions to South Ossetian forces. A November 17 report broadcast by the Georgian television station Mze alleged that South Ossetian fighters staged occasional raids on Georgian settlements. "At night, armed Ossetian groups cross the administrative border unhindered and terrorize Georgians," the report stated.
In turn, representatives of the break-away authority in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, have accused Tbilisi of violating the November 5 agreement by moving heavy weapons and additional troops into the "demilitarized" zone.
Amid the mutual recrimination, Georgian and South Ossetian officials have worked to destroy trenches and fortifications, as specified by the demilitarization accord. The original implementation deadline was November 20, but Khaindrava indicated it was unlikely the two sides could keep to the timetable. He predicted that demilitarization measures would last through the end of 2004.