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US Urges Russian Restraint on Georgia - 2002-08-28


The United States is urging Russia to show restraint as Georgia moves to establish security and deal with Muslim guerrillas in the troubled Pankisi Gorge area. Russia says the gorge is being used as a refuge and staging ground for attacks into Russia by Chechen rebels.

The State Department says the United States is "very aware" of Russia's concerns about the presence of Chechen fighters in the gorge.

But it is calling on Moscow to work with the Tbilisi government on the problem, and not take matters into its own hands by launching attacks into Georgian territory.

The Georgian government earlier this week said it had sent about one-thousand troops into the rugged gorge near the border with Russian Chechnya to carry out what it described as "anti-criminal" and "anti-terrorist" operations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was dismissive of the Georgian move during a visit to Siberia Wednesday, and criticized Tbilisi authorities for first denying there were rebels in the gorge and then sending troops to flush them out.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States welcomes Mr. Putin's acknowledgment that Georgia, at least, has acted on the matter, and said Moscow should let Georgia deal with the situation:

"Georgia has moved security forces into the Pankisi area to establish government control," he said. "We think the problems in that area need to be handled by the Georgian government, and we've worked with the Georgian government, as you know, to improve its ability to do that, to improve border security. So like us, we would urge Russia to talk to Georgia, to work with Georgia so that both countries can work together to deal with the question of international terrorists and Chechen fighters remaining in Georgia."

Georgia said Russian aircraft staged air strikes into its territory last Friday which caused civilian casualties.

Though Russia denied its planes were involved, the White House issued a statement saying the Georgian reports were "credible" and verified by OSCE border monitors.

Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer expressed deep concern about the attack and stressed U.S. support for Georgia's independence and territorial integrity.

He also stressed the urgent need for a political settlement to the conflict in Chechnya, which he said would contribute to stability in both Russia and Georgia and advance efforts to fight terrorism establish peace in the Caucasus.

Mr. Boucher said U.S. concerns have been expressed directly to Moscow through diplomatic channels and in a telephone call to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The United States earlier this year sent military instructors to Georgia to help train that country's armed forces to fight extremists operating on its territory.

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