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Keep Russian Peacekeepers in Abkhazia, urges Georgian President - 2003-06-30

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze says Russian peacekeeping forces should remain in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia indefinitely.

Mr. Shevardnadze Monday that there is no point in renewing the mandate every six months because the peacekeepers are important in helping with the return of refugees to the region.

The Georgian leader said he has an agreement with Russia to allow the troops to remain until either Georgia or Abkhazia demand that they be withdrawn.

Russian troops are in Abkhazia under a mandate from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of former Soviet republics.

Georgia sent forces into Abkhazia in 1992, shortly after the region declared its independence. During a year of fighting, some 16,000 people were killed and 250,000 Georgians are said to have fled their homes. Abkhazia's independence has not been recognized internationally.