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Georgia: Shevardnadze Says Troops Find No Enemy In Pankisi

Tbilisi, 26 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- President Eduard Shevardnadze said today that Georgian troops encountered no enemy during an antiterrorist and anticriminal operation in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Shevardnadze said his government had warned militants that they should leave the area before soldiers began the sweep in the Pankisi yesterday. Shevardnadze did not say where he believes the militants went. There were no reports of clashes as the soldiers put up checkpoints today.

Russia has long accused Georgia of harboring separatist rebels from neighboring Chechnya. Russia says Georgia is pushing the rebels back to Russia, but adds that Tbilisi's forces should arrest them and hand them over to Moscow.

Georgia says it was Russia that pushed the Chechens into Georgia when it began its second military operation in Chechnya in 1999. Shevardnadze said Russia conducted a bombing raid in Pankisi last week that was intended to derail the Georgian sweep of the area.

For more on this story, please see Caucasus: Tensions Between Russia, Georgia Mount Over Pankisi Operations.