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Georgian, US Troops Begin Military Maneuvers


Georgian and U.S. troops have begun joint military maneuvers on Georgian soil, as tensions between the former Soviet republic and neighboring Russia continue to escalate.

About 1,000 U.S. servicemen and 600 Georgians will train for three weeks at a military base near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Small contingents from Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan are also participating.

The Georgian Defense Ministry says the maneuvers were planned months ago, and are not related to tensions between the Tbilisi government and two Russian-backed Georgian breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's attempts to move his country toward NATO have also angered Moscow.

Meanwhile, Russia Tuesday launched its own military exercises in the North Caucasus region. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Yuri Ivanov, said the Russian exercises have "nothing to do" with the Georgian-U.S. maneuvers. Authorities say about eight thousand Russian troops are taking part.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s, sparking fighting and the dispatch of Russian peacekeepers to the regions. Georgia has accused the Russians of backing separatists in both regions, and has vowed to bring the territories back under central government control.

In a separate development, Georgia's parliament Tuesday approved a 5,000-strong increase in the country's military, bringing the total number of soldiers to 37,000. Lawmakers also approved a nearly 27 percent increase in military spending.

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