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Georgia: Minister Downplays Need For Antiterror Action

Tbilisi, 19 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's National Security Minister Valery Khaburdzania has played down the need for an armed "antiterrorist" security operation in the Pankisi Gorge region bordering Chechnya. Speaking last night on Georgian television, Khaburdzania said any special security operation in Pankisi should be anticriminal in nature, not antiterrorist.

He added that if any such operation were to be launched, Georgian forces will be prepared to ask Russia and the West for assistance with information, technology, and methods.

Earlier, President Eduard Shevardnadze said that, if necessary, Georgia would be "ready for dialogue" with the United States about a possible limited military action in the Pankisi Gorge.

Last week, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Georgia said dozens of suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist fighters had left Afghanistan and were now believed operating in Pankisi.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov yesterday reiterated Moscow's position that an antiterrorist operation should be launched in Pankisi to root out Chechen separatists and foreign fighters hiding there.