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Rice Questions Need for More Russian Troops in Troubled Georgian Areas


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she does not see the need for additional Russian peacekeeping troops in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Rice, in London for a set of international meetings, says she will raise the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. VOA's David Gollust reports from London.

Rice says the Russian deployments announced this week do not appear to violate terms of long-standing peacekeeping arrangements in the Georgian areas, but that the action does raise tensions and is not militarily necessary.

The Secretary discussed the Georgian situation with reporters en route to London where she is to meet with her Russian counterpart during a day of ministerial-level meetings in the British capital on the Middle East and Kosovo.

Abhkazia and South Ossetia, areas bordering Russia and with large ethic-Russian populations, have resisted incorporation into Georgia since the former Soviet republic's independence.

The issue flared again two weeks ago when Russia said it was establishing some official ties with authorities in the two areas. In her airborne news conference, Rice said it is extremely important that Moscow respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and that dealings with two areas, integral parts, she said, of Georgia, need to be done through the Tbilisi government.

She said she does not see the necessity of the troop deployments, which she said are, at the very least, ill-timed. "What the Russians are doing is part of a peacekeeping mission that they're involved in. But given the tensions between Russia and Georgia, it would certainly be helpful if Russia and Georgia maintained direct contact. They have from time to time. This is not a time to excite the environment, and so we were very concerned about the movement of those forces. I've talked to both Georgians and Russians to say: let's not let any of this get out of hand," she said.

Rice called for a broad solution that can address the legitimate needs of the diverse populations of the two areas, but said that it needs to occur within the context of Georgian sovereignty.

Rice said she would also discuss Kosovo with Lavrov, before joining in separate Kosovo strategy session with foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

The Secretary said that given the complexity of the issue, developments since Kosovo's independence declaration in February have, in her words, not gone too badly and that affected parties have acted pretty responsibly.

Rice said despite some incidents of trouble, Kosovars have acted with restraint, while noting with satisfaction that Serbia - which strongly opposed independence for its former province - has gone ahead with contacts with the European Union on eventual E.U. membership.

A senior official traveling with Rice however criticized the Russian government, which he said has chosen not to play a constructive role on Kosovo, and is not encouraging its diplomatic ally Serbia to face the reality of an independent Kosovo.

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