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U.S. calls for peacekeeping review in Georgia's rebel regions

RIA Novosti

05/06/2008 10:56 WASHINGTON, June 5 (RIA Novosti) - The international community should review Russia's peacekeeping contingent in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, three U.S. senators said in a joint resolution.

The resolution sponsored by Democrat-senator Joseph Biden and Republican-senators, Richard Lugar and Mel Martinez, accused Russia of attempting "to undermine the territorial integrity" of Georgia and said that replacing the current Russia-led CIS force would be a "way to de-escalate tensions."

"It's time for the international community to re-examine the composition of the peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia is not a neutral party or an honest broker in this arrangement - shooting down unarmed aircraft and acting to assert ownership of the territories entrusted to them are totally inconsistent with the spirit of peacekeeping," Biden said

Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have drastically deteriorated since former president Vladimir Putin called for closer ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in April, and following the downing of a Georgian reconnaissance drone, which both Georgia and the UN said was shot down by a Russian fighter. Moscow has denied any involvement. (VIDEO)

Senator Lugar called Georgia an "important friend to the United States." He added that "Georgians have made welcome military contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The country hosts a large segment of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline carrying oil from the Caspian Sea to markets in the West."

While senator Martinez said: "The Georgian people deserve to know the United States Congress stands with them."

Moscow-Tbilisi relations have been consistently strained since Western leaning President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in early 2004. Georgia's plans to join NATO are believed to have further angered Russia.

In a recent interview with Le Monde Putin, now prime minister, said NATO was established to counter the "Soviet threat" which collapsed years ago.

"There is no Soviet Union, and there is no such a threat anymore but this organization still exists," he said. "The question arises: against whom do you build friendships?"

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia declared independence in 1992 which led to an armed conflict with tens of thousands killed.

A collective CIS peacekeeping force, staffed mainly with Russian military personnel, has been deployed in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone since the end of the conflict. Moscow recently bolstered the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,500 in response to a Georgian troop build-up, but said the increase was still within previously agreed limits of 3,000 soldiers.

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