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Georgia says "will not step back" in conflict with S. Ossetia

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Georgia will not give ground in the crisis around recent incidents on the border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia, a senior military official said on Saturday.
TBILISI/TSKHINVALI, August 2 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia will not give ground in the crisis around recent incidents on the border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia, a senior military official said on Saturday.

According to official reports, at least nine Georgian citizens and one policeman were wounded late Friday-early Saturday in a series of border gunfights in the Georgian-S.Ossetian conflict zone. South Ossetia reported at least six people were killed and 15 wounded on its side.

"Georgia will never retreat and will respond with fire if fired upon [by South Ossetia]," Georgian peacekeepers chief of staff Mamuka Kurashvili said.

"We would rather die here [at the border] than pull back," he said.

Meanwhile, South Ossetia's leader Eduard Kokoity, who had to interrupt his visit to Russia and return to the republic on Saturday after the border clashes with Georgia, said that Tskhinvali was prepared to mobilize the population to repel possible Georgian attacks.

"If tensions in the region continue to escalate, we are ready to carry out a general mobilization of the population in South Ossetia and to announce a recruitment of volunteers in the whole North Caucasus region," Kokoity said.

He reiterated that Georgia had long been seeking the opportunity to start a war with South Ossetia.

"We have tried hard to avoid the war and continue peace negotiations, but Georgia is not willing to give us this chance," the South Ossetian leader said. "We must defend our people and our land."

South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Hundreds died in the bloody conflict that followed.

The pro-Western Georgian leadership has said it is determined to bring the region, along with another breakaway republic, Abkhazia, back under central control.

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