Seven Russian soldiers were killed in an explosion in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on October 3, officials in the breakaway region said.
Initial reports by the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee suggested that a car bomb exploded outside Russian military headquarters, a building that formerly served as the Joint Peacekeeping Forces HQ in the region.
Six soldiers died immediately and one died in hospital later on the same day, according to the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee. About seven other people were reportedly injured.
Marat Kulakhmetov, the Russian military commander on the ground, said the vehicle had been seized earlier by a Russian patrol close to Tskhinvali, following the discovery of firearms and hand-grenades in the vehicle. The car was then brought to Tskhinvali and as an additional search was being carried out inside the car, Kulakhmetov said, the explosion occured, according to Interfax news agency.
In another incident, an explosive went off in the Akhalgori district on the same day, slightly injuring at least one person. The breakaway region’s Interior Ministry said that Anatoli Margiev, the head of the local administration in Akhalgori, was the target of “the terrorist act.” Margiev has held his position since South Ossetian militias, backed by Russian troops, overran the Akhlagori district following the August war.
South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity has accused the Georgian side of being behind both incidents. “We have no doubt that these terrorist acts were masterminded by Georgian special troops,” Kokoity told Interfax news agency.
Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said on October 3 that provocations were possible in and around South Ossetia, as the deadline – October 10 – for the withdrawal of Russian troops from areas adjacent to the breakaway region approached.
“Provocations are possible,” he told journalists. “Already there have been some minor provocations; we hope that they will not grow into large-scale confrontation.”
He said Tbilisi would not yield to provocations. “It is important to avoid military confrontation,” Iakobashvili said.
Meanwhile, Davit Gamkrelidze, the leader of the New Rights opposition party, said he expected incidents would be staged in the conflict areas. He claimed the Georgian leadership was interested in keeping the situation tense.
“He [President Saakasvhili] understands that his power is under threat and he will do anything to maintain power, including the staging of provocations to keep the situation tense there,” he said on a Kavkasia TV talk show late on October 2. He suggested EU observers monitoring areas adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia may be the target of such attacks.