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Russian, Georgian Leaders Agree to Cooperate Against Cross-Border Attacks - 2002-10-07

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze have agreed on steps aimed reducing cross border attacks allegedly carried out by Chechen rebels using Georgian territory. The agreement was struck in Moldova on the eve of the annual Summit of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The agreement calls for border guards in both countries to increase cooperation to prevent alleged rebel incursions from the Pankisi Gorge into nearby Chechnya, on Russia's southern flank.

President Putin says President Shevardnadze also pledged that Georgia would no longer delay extradition of a group of alleged Chechen militants wanted in Russia in connection with the deaths of eight Russian soldiers. Sunday's meeting was the first between the two leaders since a war of words broke out this summer between Russia and Georgia.

Russian officials have been increasingly critical of the Georgians, accusing them of taking their time to hand over the suspects.

Georgia says it is doing all it can to bring order to the Gorge. Georgian officials say Russian military operations in Chechnya have contributed to the situation in the Gorge, and they have warned Russia not to send troops across the border.

Sunday's agreement is the first sign of any move toward easing tensions.

As the summit opened Monday, President Putin said he hoped earlier threats of Russian military action against Georgia would not be realized, if, as he said, the agreement with the Georgian President is put into practice.

The Putin-Shevardnadze meeting was one of a series of bilateral talks held on the eve of the annual summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS.

Presidents of the 11 nations in attendance aim to cover a broad agenda from joint efforts to fight terrorism, separatism and crime, to strengthening borders and combating the illegal drug trade.

The meeting is also expected to forge a common position on Iraq.

The only nation missing is Turkmenistan, which generally does not attend such summits.

Russian media say permanent U.N. Security Council member Russia will argue against any proposal for direct or indirect involvement of CIS member countries in any possible U.S. led military action against Iraq.

The leaders are also to consider the creation of an anti-terrorist center in Central Asia, as well as ways to reform the legal and economic standards of the group into closer line with European standards.

Monday's summit agenda isn't all serious, as CIS leaders also will help Russia's President Putin celebrate his 50th birthday.