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Georgia: Surprise Russian Contingent To Be Withdrawn


Tbilisi, 12 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said after a crisis meeting with the commander of Russian troops deployed in the breakaway region of Abkhazia that the surprise contingent will be withdrawn almost immediately. The Russian troops landed in the disputed Kodori Gorge in Georgia early today, prompting a swift reaction from Tbilisi. But their commander agreed to pull out by the following morning, Shevardnadze said at the airport after returning by helicopter from the area.

"We reached an agreement with the commander, and he promised to finish everything tomorrow morning," Shevardnadze said.

Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze called for the withdrawal of the troops earlier today, threatening possible military action if the Russian contingent was not gone by the end of the day.

"The deployed [Russian] troops have been localized and are now encircled. It has been decided that fire will be open in case of any actions [taken by the Russian side] that have not been coordinated [with Georgia]. The commander of the [Russian] peacekeeping contingent has been given an ultimatum that he should ensure the withdrawal of these troops by the end of the day without much noise," Tevzadze said.

Russia has kept peacekeepers in Abkhazia since separatists drove out Georgian forces in a 1992-93 war. The United Nations also has a small, unarmed observer team there.

A spokesman for Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, Igor Konyushenkov, said the troops were sent to the gorge to help maintain security for Russian and UN observers under an agreement brokered in early April.

But Georgia said the accord made no mention of armed Russian troops, and officials indicated that Tbilisi was not informed in advance of the move.

President Shevardnadze said he might demand the end of Russia's nearly decade-old peacekeeping mission in his country before leaving for Kodori Gorge, where he met with the Russian commander.

Deputies in Georgia's parliament passed an appeal to international organizations, labeling the Russian move "aggression against Georgia."

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