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Georgia: Shevardnadze Says Russian Extradition Request Inadequate

Tbilisi , 4 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said today that Russia has not provided sufficient evidence to justify the extradition of eight suspected Chechen militants arrested by Georgian officials in the Pankisi Gorge. Shevardnadze said the paperwork received from Russia in the case was inadequate and did not even correctly name the suspects.

The eight men were among 13 Chechens captured in August in an operation launched by Georgia under pressure from Moscow. Five of those detained were sent to Russia last month.

Shevardnadze also said today that the ongoing operation to clear Chechen separatists and foreign mercenaries from the Pankisi Gorge should be finished in two to three weeks.

Georgia started the operation in August after coming under pressure from Russia. Russian troops in Chechnya came under attack near the border with Georgia at the start of August and the Russian military began to speak about conducting its own cross-border operations.

Shevardnadze told journalists today that what needed to be done in Pankisi has basically been done. Shevardnadze said in two or three weeks he would be able to announce officially that no "criminals" remained in the gorge.

Top Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have questioned Georgia's operations in the gorge, saying attempts to chase what they called bandits from Pankisi were "half-hearted" and "ineffective."