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Russia defends move to send railroad troops to Abkhazia

RIA Novosti

03/06/2008 15:01 MOSCOW, June 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the country's railroad troops repairing track in a Georgian rebel region are working in strict compliance with bilateral agreements.

On Monday, Georgia's Foreign Ministry summoned Russia's ambassador to hand over a protest note following Moscow's deployment of unarmed railroad troops to Abkhazia on May 31.

"We feel the need to stress that the task of restoring rail infrastructure on Abkhaz territory is fully in line with Russian-Georgian agreements," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

Georgia earlier said the deployment indicates Russia is preparing for military intervention. The country accuses Russia of trying to annex Abkhazia, along with South Ossetia, another Georgian breakaway territory.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia have been consistently strained since Western-leaning President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in the South Caucasus country in early 2004.

The long-running row over Georgian breakaway regions, along with Tbilisi's plans to join NATO, have been major factors behind the dispute. In a recent development, Georgia accused Russia of shooting down an unmanned reconnaissance plane over Abkhazia on April 20. Moscow denies involvement in the incident.

A UN report last Monday backed up Georgia's version of events, but criticized the country for carrying out surveillance flights in breach of the terms of a ceasefire deal that ended an armed conflict in the early 1990s.

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