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Georgia Frees Four Russian Officers Accused of Spying


Four Russian military officers jailed in Georgia on charges of spying are back in Moscow after authorities freed them in what Tbilisi calls a goodwill gesture.

Georgian authorities turned over the Russians to diplomats from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Despite the release, Russia still plans to impose a number of economic sanctions on Georgia, starting Tuesday, including cutting air, highway, train, sea and postal links.

However, Mr. Putin on Monday ordered a long-planned pullout of Russian troops from Georgia to continue. The Russian forces are expected to leave by the end of 2008.

The U.S. State Department says it welcomes the Russians' release and encourages both countries to avoid more tension.

Georgia arrested the officers last week on suspicion of spying. Georgian television broadcast videotape it says show the Russians meeting with their contacts.

Russia denies the charges. President Vladimir Putin called the arrests "state terrorism."

Moscow has recalled its ambassador and most diplomatic staff from Tbilisi. It has also placed its troops in Georgia on high alert and ordered them to use deadly force, if necessary, to defend themselves.

Georgia accuses Russian peacekeepers of backing pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia vows to bring the areas back under its control.

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