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Georgia: Shevardnadze Says Experts Working In Iran

Tbilisi, 13 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said today that a number of Georgian scientists, including nuclear physicists and aircraft engineers, are working in Iran on private contracts that have not been authorized by the government. Shevardnadze said that his government has informed the U.S. administration that some of the workers of the Sukhumi Institute of Physics and Technology have moved to Iran. He said that some retired engineers from the Tbilisi aircraft plant are also working in Iran to help refurbish the combat aircraft that Georgia supplied to Iran in the early 1990s.

Shevardnadze said that his government can do little about it since the Georgian specialists were working in Iran as private citizens. He said that the issue should be solved in such a way so as "not to spoil relations with Iran, but also to satisfy the legitimate concerns of the Americans."

Separately, President Shevardnadze said today he opposes having Russian peacekeeping troops in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia. Shevardnadze said over national radio that he was not ready to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces in the area of the Abkhazian conflict.

Shevardnadze said one of his reasons for not renewing the mandate was Russia's decision to open a rail link between Sochi and the Abkhazian provincial capital Sukhumi without consulting Georgian authorities.

Shevardnadze also said he objected to Russia's decision to issue Russian passports to Abkhazian citizens. Shevardnadze said 80,000 of Abkhazia's estimated 150,000 residents had already obtained Russian passports. Shevardnadze said it appeared Russia was preparing to annex Abkhazia.

In a statement today, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Georgia's failure to extend the peacekeepers' mandate seriously complicates efforts to find a solution to the Abkhazian conflict.

Abkhazia tried to secede from Georgia in the late 1970s, during Soviet times. After Georgia's 1991 independence, fighting broke out in Abkhazia and Abkhazia won de facto independence in 1993. Russian peacekeepers have patrolled the Georgian-Abkhaz border since 1994.