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Georgia: Russian Pullout From Base Under Question

Tbilisi, 30 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- There was no indication today that Russia would meet a midnight deadline to vacate the Gudauta military base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia. Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze said today Russia had asked permission to leave a 300-strong force at Gudauta. But Sikharulidze said this request would be examined only after all Russian weapons are pulled out.

Georgia fears that these weapons could fall into the hands of the Abkhaz leadership, which opposes the Russian withdrawal.

Moscow-backed Abkhaz separatists fought against Georgian troops in 1992-1993, repelling them beyond the Inguri River that separates their province from the rest of the country. Georgia currently exerts no control over Abkhazia.

Russia yesterday completed the handover to the Georgian government of the Vaziani airbase, near Tbilisi. A pullout date remains to be negotiated for two remaining bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki.