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Russia-Georgia Standoff Continues - 2002-04-13


A tense standoff continues between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. It remains unclear if a contingent of Russian troops that was sent into a remote gorge in western Georgia on Friday will be withdrawn as Georgian officials are demanding.

Russia's Defense Ministry says a final decision has not been made on the re-deployment of heavily-armed soldiers that were sent to the Kodori Gorge on Friday.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze says the unit's commander assured him the force would be withdrawn. But Russian officials say only that Mr. Shevardnadze asked for the force of 80 men to leave the gorge.

The Georgian leader flew into the gorge soon after the men arrived by helicopter, saying they were setting up a new observation post.

Russia says the soldiers are part of a peacekeeping mission which has patrolled the breakaway region of Abkhazia, scene of a bloody war which ended in 1993.

Ethnic Abkhaz rebels managed to expel Georgian troops from the area, allegedly with backing from Russia.

The outcome of that war has long been a sore point in relations between Russia and Georgia, which have been at odds since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago.

On Friday Georgian military officers threatened to fire on the Russian troops if they didn't leave the gorge.

Georgia has long accused its giant neighbor of trying to maintain Soviet-style influence by assisting the Abkhaz rebels.

Moscow in turn accuses Georgia of providing refuge to rebels from Chechnya, the war-torn region just across the mountainous border in southern Russia.

Russia has been waging a long and bloody fight against the Chechens, who Moscow says are international terrorists.

The current standoff comes just as some American military instructors are due to arrive in Georgia to train troops in counterterrorism.

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