Russian troops seizing territory near rebel region: Georgia

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Georgia on Thursday accused Russian forces in its Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia of seizing control of new territory by extending the region's de facto border.

Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said at least 30 hectares (75 acres) of land, including farmland, roads and homes, had been seized since Wednesday morning when Russian border troops began demarcation works around South Ossetia.

"In most cases it was no-man's land, but they have also occupied three houses, some farmland -- in one case they went to a local resident and said half of his orchard had been seized -- and a new water well," Utiashvili told AFP.

"The significance is not in the size of the territory but in what they are seizing. Some roads are being blocked and local residents are being cut off from water supplies," he said. "Local people are very concerned."

Russia denied any territory had been seized, with a spokesman for Russian border services telling the Interfax news agency: "No demarcation works are being carried out by Russian troops on the border between South Ossetia and Georgia."

Utiashvili said Georgian police were monitoring the situation and that Tbilisi would raise the issue during the next round of security talks with Russia, scheduled to take place in Geneva on October 14.

A spokeswoman for the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia, Virginia Antonini, said the mission had been informed and was investigating Tbilisi's claims.

"For the moment the situation is calm and quiet," she added.

Russia recognised South Ossetia as an independent state after its five-day war with Georgia in August 2008, which saw Russian troops pour into the country after fighting broke out between Georgian and separatist forces in South Ossetia.

Moscow has since deployed thousands of troops and border guards in South Ossetia and Georgia's other rebel region Abkhazia, which it also recognised as independent.

Georgia accuses Russia of illegally occupying the territories and of violating a ceasefire agreement by refusing to withdraw its forces to positions held prior to the conflict.

© 2010 AFP

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