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Georgia/Russia: Duma Against Peacekeepers' Withdrawal

Moscow, 23 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's State Duma today voted against a withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Our Moscow correspondent reports that legislators adopted a non-binding resolution, asking President Boris Yeltsin to propose leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States extend the peacekeepers' mandate. It expires July 31. Deputies said a pullout of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia could lead to a new outbreak of hostilities with Georgia.

Abkhazian leader Vladislav Ardzinba had expressed similar views during intense negotiations with Georgian officials that ended last week in Moscow. The negotiations made little visible progress.

Georgian leaders want the peacekeepers to broaden their role and assist some 200,000 Georgian refugees. Georgia's parliament has said that if there is no progress toward a settlement the peacekeepers should leave after their mandate expires.

Russia has had some 2,500 troops patrolling the border between Georgia and Abkhazia since 1994, a year after Georgian troops fled fighting with Abkhaz separatists.