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Georgian President says Russia-Georgia War Threat Persists


Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says the threat of Russian-Georgian military conflict over a disputed Georgian border region remains high and should be avoided.

Mr. Saakashvili, in comments quoted by Russian news agencies, said Thursday that both sides were close to conflict several days ago over the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He said today the threat has not abated.

Earlier today, Moscow threatened to send more troops into Abkhazia, if Georgia continues to boost its military presence in the border territory.

The Russian Defense Ministry said "further [military] steps" by Georgia can only lead to a "necessary" response by the Russian side.

Tensions have escalated since mid-April, when Georgia accused Russia of shooting down an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in Georgian airspace. Moscow denied any role. Since then there have been three more reports of the downing of such Georgian aircraft.

However, President Saakashvili today denied his military lost any more drones.

A Russian defense ministry statement today says the current Russian troop level in Abkhazia stands at 2,542. It also notes that international agreements governing a 1994 ceasefire in the region allow for three-thousand Russian peacekeepers.

Earlier this week, the administration of U.S. President George Bush accused Moscow of taking "provocative actions" in the region that it said "significantly and unnecessarily" boost regional tensions.

Abkhazia and a second breakaway Georgian region, South Ossetia, declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s, sparking fighting and the dispatch of Russian peacekeepers to both regions. Georgia has accused the Russian troops of backing separatists and has pledged to bring both areas back under central government control.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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