Wed, Aug 25, 2004 - Page 6 News List

War with Russia is close, president of Georgia declares

AFP , PARIS

War with Russia is close and it is necessary to prepare the people of Georgia for such an eventuality, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili warned in a newspaper interview published in France on Tuesday.

"We are very close to a war [with Russia], the population must be prepared," he told the French-language Liberation daily newspaper.

Denouncing military aid from Russia to rebels in Georgia's break-away region of South Ossetia, Saakashvili stressed that he had "no intention of provoking it [a war]" and called for an international conference to discuss the status of South Ossetia.

"Russia says it is opposed to this, but I think its position is evolving," he added.

Georgia pulled troops back from the separatist pro-Moscow region last week after an unprecedented show of force that infuriated Russia and worried Washington.

South Ossetia falls within Georgian borders, but the region is inhabited mainly by ethnic Ossetians.

The adjacent province of North Ossetia, also dominated by Ossetians, is part of Russia. South Ossetia has demanded either independence or rule from Moscow.

"The forces which attacked the Georgian positions last week were without doubt Russian forces," said Saakashvili in the French newspaper article.

"The fundamental problem for Russia is that it has lost many territories in recent years. Many Russians feel their country has lost too much and that it now needs to resist losing any more territory," he added.

To avoid ethnic conflict, the Georgian president said he had proposed to the Ossetians "a very substantial autonomy and generous participation in Georgia's central government".

Last Thursday, the Tbilisi authorities said that 24 people had been killed and 50 others injured on the Georgian side in a week of fighting in the region.

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