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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

U.S. rejects referendum for rebel Georgia region

WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - The United States rejects an independence referendum planned for Sunday in the separatist South Ossetia region of Georgia, the State Department said on Wednesday.

"These actions will only serve to exacerbate tensions and divert attention from the need to peacefully resolve the conflict," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.

Georgian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the rebel province are in a tense armed confrontation over the region.

"We call on Tskhinvali and Tbilisi to engage in direct talks to find a peaceful solution that defines the status of South Ossetia within Georgia's internationally recognized borders, while affording South Ossetia significant autonomy within a unified Georgia," McCormack said.

Separatists consider Tskhinvali the capital of South Ossetia.

The State Department spokesman said the United States supports Georgia's sovereignty, adding that the international community has made clear South Ossetia is part of Georgia.

Authorities in the rebel province scheduled a Nov. 12 referendum to confirm its independence.

South Ossetia threw off Georgian rule in fighting in the early 1990s. A cease-fire was signed but the violence has threatened to reignite, especially since Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was elected in 2004 and vowed to reunify his country.
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