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Russia denies beefing up peacekeeping force in S. Ossetia

RIA Novosti

01/06/2006 14:17

TBILISI/MOSCOW, June 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russia Thursday dismissed Georgian complaints that additional peacekeeping forces were being deployed in the Caucasian country's breakaway South Ossetia region.

Georgia's state minister for conflict resolution issues said Russia had brought in forces in excess of the established quota, using the rotation of its peacekeeping battalion in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict as a cover, while Georgian peacekeepers' commander in the conflict zone said Russia had brought in hundreds of new troops.

"Russian peacekeepers have used a bypass road through the town of Dzhava to bring in an extra 300 to 400 servicemen in full combat gear," Paata Bedianashvili said.

But the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone dismissed reports that Russia had deployed more forces in the conflict zone.

"Five hundred servicemen were brought into the conflict zone on May 29 as part of the scheduled rotation of Russian peacekeepers. No additional heavy equipment or trucks with servicemen were deployed. The rotation will be completed in two days," Marat Kulakhmetov said.

Georgia said earlier that Russian peacekeepers had used an illegal border crossing point and had no Georgian visas.

The Georgian state minister for conflict resolution said Russian peacekeepers were using two officially closed sectors, the Roksky tunnel (on the border between South and North Ossetia) and the Psou River (between Russia and Abkhazia) to conduct the rotation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the complaints, saying the use of the Roksky tunnel was legitimate.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday that the rotation that had enraged the Georgian leadership would continue despite Georgia's warnings.

A Russian peacekeeping battalion has been stationed in South Ossetia since an end to fighting in the early 1990s after the region tried to secede from Georgia.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said last week that the current rotation had not been coordinated with the Georgian co-chairman of the JCC - the body comprising Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia that is attempting to find a solution to the conflict - and that Russia was stalling on talks over visas for its peacekeepers.

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