Tbilisi, 5 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today urged Georgia to hand over seven suspected Chechen separatist fighters who were detained by Georgian border guards over the weekend. Putin said he welcomed the capture of the Chechens as a "tentative" sign that Georgia's leadership is concerned with the need to fight international terrorism.
"We shall make judgments about how serious the intentions of the Georgian authorities are to fight terrorism depending on how fast these criminals end up in [Moscow's] Lefortovo Prison, in the hands of Russian justice. Today, the Prosecutor-General's Office will send the necessary inquiry about the extradition of the bandits to Russia."
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said today the prisoners could be extradited to Russia if Moscow first substantiates claims that they may be guilty of serious crimes.
"If there are criminals and terrorists among them, the Russian side should give us their materials and we will give the Russian side an opportunity to interrogate [the detainees] and carry out the necessary investigation, then we will hand the criminals over."
Shevardnadze today also ruled out any large-scale operation to flush out suspected Chechen fighters hiding in the Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya.
Russian officials accuse Georgia of failing to crack down on Chechen rebels taking refuge in the Pankisi Gorge. Some have demanded that Georgia allow Russian troops to fight Chechen militants on Georgian soil.