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Georgia: Saakashvili Has Harsh Words For Russia At UN

Saakashvili described Russia's behavior as "reckless and dangerous" (AFP) Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has told world leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly in New York that Russia continues to interfere in his country's affairs. In his speech on September 26, he said Russia continues to engage in "reckless and dangerous" behavior. The Georgian president also said Russian claims concerning a recent incident in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, in which two Russian military officials were killed, were "wholly untrue."

UNITED NATIONS, September 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The latest incident to blight relations between Georgia and Russia took place in a forest in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.

That was where Georgian forces last week killed two Russian military officials. President Mikheil Saakashvili, speaking at the UN on September 26, said it was a "law-enforcement operation" aimed against illegitimate intruders.

"One has to wonder, what was a lieutenant-colonel of the Russian Army doing in the Georgian forest organizing and leading a group of armed insurgents in a mission of subversion and violence?" Saakashvili said. "I want to ask our Russian friends: Is there not enough territory in Russia? Are there not enough forests in Russia for Russian officers not to die in Georgian territory, in Georgian forests? Whatever the explanation is, we regret the loss of life."

'Unprovoked Attack'

Russia disagrees with that account. Speaking after Saakashvili's speech, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said it was an "unprovoked" attack on an "antiterrorist training" exercise. The incident took place in the Kodori Gorge, which straddles Georgian-controlled Upper Abkhazia and the pro-Russian breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Churkin said the men were "instructors" and were killed with knives and gunshots to the head. Georgia, he said, has done everything to "aggravate tensions."

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been shaky since the 2003 Rose Revolution thrust the Western-leaning Saakashvili into power.

Last year, Russia cut transport and trade ties with Georgia, after Tbilisi arrested four Russian military officers it accused of spying.

In August this year, Georgia said a military jet illegally entered its airspace from Russia and dropped a missile before flying back to Russia. The missile landed in a field near Georgia's border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia, but did not explode. Russia denies the incident.

OSCE Refused To Lay Blame

After three conflicting investigations by international and Russian experts, the OSCE has said it believes the missile incident took place, but does not want to lay blame.

Speaking about the most recent incident in the Kodori Gorge, Saakashvili said Georgia would try to avoid future violence and hostility:

"Our vision for the region is guided by the belief that mutual interdependence brings mutual benefit," he said. "I believe that the people of Georgia have served as a catalyst and a living example of how governing transparently, through democratic principles brings lasting stability and sheer prosperity."

But tensions remain high in Georgia's breakaway regions. On September 26, there was heavy mortar fire in South Ossetia, with both Georgians and separatists accusing each other.

Georgian force accused separatists of targeting government-controlled villages from South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali.

Separatists said they were forced to respond after Georgian troops had opened fire on Tskhinvali.

The region is policed by a joint force of Georgian and Russian peacekeepers.

No Mention Of Okruashvili Charges

Saakashvili made no mention in his speech of his former interior and defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, who has accused the president of ordering killings and of establishing authoritarian rule. Shortly after making those accusations, Okruashvili was detained by Georgian security forces on charges of extortion, money laundering, and abuse of office while Georgia's defense minister.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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