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Russian Official Advocates Force in Dealing With Chechen Rebels - 2002-08-10


A senior Russian official said Saturday that force is the only way to deal with Chechen rebels living in the Georgian controlled Pankisi Gorge.

During a news conference in the southern Russian city of Kaspiisk, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, described the Chechen rebels as terrorists and said "force is the only way to eradicate terrorism."

Mr. Ivanov said the whole world knows it is useless talk to terrorists. He said they must either be brought to justice or their bodies brought for identification.

The defense minister was referring to Chechen rebels that Moscow has said are seeking refuge in the Pankisi Gorge, a part of the Caucasian country of Georgia that borders Russia.

Moscow has often criticized Georgia, saying the Georgian government is harboring Chechen rebels in the Pankisi Gorge and allowing them to travel back and forth into the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya. Moscow is pushing Georgia to allow Russian troops into the gorge to hunt down the rebels.

While Georgia has acknowledged there may be Chechen rebels in the region, it says it is dealing with the problem. Georgia accuses Russian planes of conducting raids against alleged rebel bases located on Georgian soil.

According to Russian media, Mr. Ivanov denied Saturday that Russian military planes bombed Georgian territory. He said Moscow had repeatedly asked Georgia for proof of such raids but to no avail.

Relations between Georgia and Russia have been tense since the end of the Soviet Union but with the onset of war in Chechnya in 1999 the situation deteriorated.

This is the second war Russia has fought in Chechnya. Russian soldiers invaded Chechnya in 1994 only to pull out in a humiliating defeat in 1996.

Moscow sent its troops back in 1999 after a series of apartment bombings that Russia blamed on Chechen rebels. Russian officials repeatedly say they have the situation in Chechnya under control but Russian soldiers, Chechen rebels and civilians die almost daily as the fighting continues.

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