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Russia to rotate peacekeepers in Georgia on May 25-30

RIA Novosti

22/05/2008 20:00 MOSCOW, May 22 (RIA Novosti) - A scheduled rotation of Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone between Georgia and its breakaway republic of Abkhazia will be conducted on May 25-30, the peacekeepers said on Thursday.

The Collective CIS Peacekeeping Force Headquarters said that 500 Russian troops will be replaced in line with a May 1994 ceasefire agreement and a mandate on peacekeeping operations in the conflict zone.

The peacekeepers said only few items of hardware needing repairs will be replaced, and that "the Georgian and Abkhaz sides as well as leaders of UN observers in Georgia have been notified of the coming rotation in advance."

Abkhazia is one of Georgia's two breakaway de facto independent republics, along with South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the republics since the 1990s. Moscow recently bolstered the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia in response to a Georgian troop build-up, but said the increase was still within previously agreed limits of 3,000 soldiers.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have drastically deteriorated since Russia's former president Vladimir Putin called for closer ties between Moscow and the two breakaway republics in mid-April.

Georgia has accused Russia of trying to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Moscow says Tbilisi is planning to invade Abkhazia.

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