Russian peacekeeping forces will guarantee stability in region - South Ossetian minister

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MOSCOW, July 14 (RIA Novosti) - The presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone guarantees stability and peace in the region, a senior South Ossetian government official said Thursday.

Boris Chochiyev, the minister for special affairs of the self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia said, "The presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia guarantees stability and peace in an area in which almost the entire population has received Russian citizenship."

Chochiyev added that July 14 was the 13th anniversary of the arrival of the Joint Peacekeeping Force in the conflict zone. The force consists of Russian, North Ossetian and Georgian peacekeepers.

To mark this occasion, an award ceremony was held at the Joint Peacekeeping Force headquarters in Tskhinvali, the capital of the self-proclaimed republic, during which the South Ossetian president presented the peacekeeping battalions with gifts. "But for the first time in the 13 years, the Georgian authorities did not take part in the event, Chochiyev said.

The South Ossetian minister said, "The Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution, Georgy Khaindrava, has been saying for a long time that the Georgian authorities view the continued presence of the Russian peacekeepers to be inexpedient."

He added that the Georgians tried to blame any provocations in the conflict zone on the peacekeepers and used this as an excuse to raise the issue of their withdrawal.

In late 1989 Georgia put its troops into Tskhinvali. In response, South Ossetia set up its own armed formation, the national guard. Armed conflict broke out between the Georgian and South Ossetian troops, and uncontrolled armed groups appeared in the conflict zone.

The Joint Peacekeeping Force moved into South Ossetia pursuant to the 1992 Dagomys agreement. Each of the three battalions had 550 men. In addition to introducing the peacekeepers, the agreement envisaged a Georgian-South Ossetian ceasefire and the establishment of a body to bring an end to the conflict.

In December 2004, the Georgian defense minister reduced the Georgian battalion to 50 men. The Georgian government withdrew the peacekeepers under the pretext it did not see any threat to the local Georgian population in the conflict zone.

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