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YEREVAN -- The Armenian government says it is not concerned about the possible privatization of a key pipeline through Georgia that supplies Russian natural gas to Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Armenian Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian insisted the Georgian government would not sell the pipeline to Azerbaijan or to private investors. He said Georgia was pursuing other objectives that do not threaten Armenia's energy security.

The Georgian parliament technically paved the way for the sale last week when it voted in the first reading to remove the so-called North-South pipeline from a list of strategic state facilities not subject to privatization.

The move raised fears in Yerevan that Azerbaijan's state oil company, SOCAR, which currently manages Georgia's domestic gas-distribution network, could acquire it to block vital Russian gas deliveries to Armenia.

Azerbaijan has become Georgia's principal gas supplier in recent years.

Opposition groups in Georgia have also expressed concern about the possible consequences of the sale. They fear the pipeline could end up under Russian control, giving Moscow additional leverage over Georgia.

Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri has sought to allay such fears, saying the Tbilisi government would only sell a minority share in the facility and will remain the principal owner.

"We have no concerns at the moment," Movsisian said in Yerevan. "Even if the pipeline is put up for sale, that will not create any emergency situations for our country."

Despite starting to import gas from neighboring Iran in May 2009, Armenia remains heavily reliant on Russian gas. In addition, more than 80 percent of its gas-distribution network is owned by Russia's Gazprom.
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