MOSCOW - The leader of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia said Friday he had sent a request to Russian President Vladimir Putin stating the province's desire to join Russia.
Eduard Kokoity, who has long favored a union with the adjacent Russian republic of North Ossetia, said he based his request on a 1992 referendum in which the population of South Ossetia had supported joining Russia.
"The request, together with documents substantiating the historical and political choice of the South Ossetian people, have been forwarded to the president of Russia," Kokoity told reporters in the Russian city of Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, where he traveled to sign a friendship treaty with that Russian province.
South Ossetia has been de-facto independent since the end of a 1991-92 war with Georgian forces in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union, but its government is not internationally recognized.
Kokoity, who was elected president in 2001, has taken a more radical position than his predecessors on resolving South Ossetia's limbo status.
He said Friday that about 56 percent of South Ossetia's residents already have Russian citizenship, and the rest have also applied for Russian passports.
"Nobody forces them to do that. This just reflects the desire of our people to be together with their brothers," Kokoity said.