TBILISI, Georgia – Negotiators agreed to a cease-fire Friday after three straight nights of gun and mortar fire in breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia (search), a Georgian official said.
Meanwhile, Georgia's parliament called Friday for suspending the mandate of Russian peacekeepers in the region, accusing Russia of taking sides as tensions have threatened to erupt into open conflict. Lawmakers want Western peacekeepers to replace the Russians.
South Ossetia has been de facto independent since breaking away from Georgia's central government in a war that killed hundreds in the early 1990s. The separatist region is now hoping to join Russia, while Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (search) has vowed to peacefully restore his government's control over the region.
"Our ancestors didn't leave us this country in order that like an apple someone would bite off a chunk of it," Saakashvili said during a Security Council meeting in the capital, Tbilisi.
Georgy Khaindrava, Georgia's minister for conflict resolution, said a special joint commission of national, regional and Russian negotiators reached the cease-fire agreement after talks in South Ossetia's main city, Tskhinvali. At least two people had been wounded in the latest overnight shooting. The agreement called for the cease-fire to take affect at midnight Friday.
Currently, some 500 Russian peacekeepers are serving along with Georgian and South Ossetian forces in the region.
In response to lawmaker's call to replace the peacekeepers, Russia's Foreign Ministry said any decision to introduce Western peacekeepers would require the agreement of both Georgians and South Ossetians. "Today, in our view, what's needed isn't debate about changing the character of the peacekeeping operation, but the unconditional fulfillment of agreements reached" between the sides, the ministry said.
Russia considers the former Soviet republic part of its sphere of influence and is wary of a greater presence from European countries or the United States, which has aided Georgia's military and has close ties with Saakashvili.
The president said he discussed the situation in South Ossetia by telephone Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (search).