GEOGRAPHY: South Ossetia is a mountainous province located in northern Georgia that shares its northern border with the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Provincial capital is Tskhinvali.
POPULATION: Estimated at 70,000 people, who are overwhelmingly ethnic Ossetians. An estimated 14,000 ethnic Georgians live in several villages in the region. Ossetians and Georgians are Orthodox Christians, as are the majority of Russians. Many have Russian citizenship.
POLITICS: South Ossetia enjoyed broad autonomy within Soviet Georgia and first claimed independence in 1989. It has run its own affairs without international recognition since breaking away from the Tbilisi-based Georgian government during a bloody 1991-1992 conflict that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced tens of thousands.
Authorities held a referendum in 1992 proclaiming the province's independence, but it went unnoticed by the international community, leaving the region in limbo. South Ossetians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a second referendum in November 2006.
Russia has peacekeepers in South Ossetia, but Tbilisi accuses them of siding with the separatists.
Since coming to power in 2004, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, back under Georgian control.
Russia formally recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia as parts of Georgia, but it sides with their separatist leaders in disputes with the Georgian government and has granted many of their residents Russian citizenship.
ECONOMY: Primarily agricultural, though just a small percentage of its land is cultivated; some industrial facilities exist around Tskhinvali, but most have been idle since the 1991-1992 war.