August 9, 2008 / 5:08 AM / 9 years ago

Olympics-IOC says Russia-Georgia conflict "a sad reality"

3 Min Read

By Karolos Grohmann

BEIJING, Aug 9 (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee said on Saturday it was saddened by the escalation of a conflict between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia while their countries' teams marched at the Games opening ceremony.

Russian forces battled Georgian troops in the breakaway part of Georgia, sparking alarm in the West. The president of the separatist region said 1,400 people had been killed.

Each side blamed the other for the fighting in the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia, which broke from Georgia as the Soviet Union neared collapse in the early 1990s but has no international recognition.

"It is not what the world wants to see. It is contrary to what the Olympic ideal stands for," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies told reporters, hours after the Games opening ceremony attended by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"We can only bring the ideal of how sport can bring people together. It is a very complex issue and it is not for the IOC to give a perspective on what has been happening."

IOC President Jacques Rogge met Putin on Friday but the issue of the conflict was not discussed, Davies said.

The battles that have moved to the enclave's capital have also sparked concerns regarding the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a few hundred kilometres from Georgia's western border.

The Russian Black Sea resort Sochi has to build 80 percent of the venues in less than six years and the IOC warned this week that preparations needed to become more efficient.

Davies said it was still to early to assess any effect on the Sochi Games preparations.

"The sad reality is that there are a number of countries (at the Olympics) that are in conflict," she said. "It would be wrong to make an assessment here and now for an event that is several years away." (Editing by Alex Richardson) (For more stories visit our multimedia website "2008 Summer Olympics" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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