Interior Ministry troops stepped up efforts Saturday to disband nationalist militias in Soviet Georgia before a midnight deadline to end a separatist conflict or face a state of emergency.

In Georgia's restive South Ossetia region, militant separatists have been firing at random for two days, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said Saturday. "They are trying to scare the population," he said.Interior Ministry troops disbanded eight armed groups in the eastern region of the republic on Thursday and Friday, and confiscated weapons and stolen vehicles, the independent news agency Interfax reported.

Interfax said troops seized several Kalashnikov submachine guns, seven pistols, 10 rifles, hand grenades and a radio transmitter. At least 43 people were detained, the agency said.

In September, separatists in South Ossetia declared their own republic and elected a legislature. They alleged discrimination by Georgians who themselves are seeking independence from the Kremlin.

In response, Georgia's Parliament tried to end South Ossetia's limited autonomy. On Dec. 12, following three fatal shootings, the leaders of the Georgian republic declared a state of emergency and a curfew in South Ossetia.

Soviet Interior Ministry troops were deployed as a buffer between Georgian Interior Ministry troops and armed South Ossetian separatists.

On Wednesday, the national Supreme Soviet legislature gave Georgian lawmakers three days to take steps to end violence in the republic, centered mostly in South Ossetia, a region in northern Georgia.

It said that if the Georgians failed to comply with the requests, it would impose a state of emergency. No action had been taken by late Saturday, however.

At least eight Georgian policemen and 12 Ossetians were killed in fighting last month.

Georgian electrical workers have blocked power from reaching the Ossetian city of Tskhinvali since Feb. 1 and an estimated 15,000 of the city's 65,000 residents have fled.

In addition to the dead and wounded, 47 Ossetians reportedly have been taken hostage by Georgians and more are missing.