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Moscow says Georgia must review its stance on Russian peacekeepers

RIA Novosti

18/06/2008 19:52 MOSCOW, June 18 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow demands that Tbilisi review its stance on Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

"Tbilisi should completely review its attitude toward the Russian peacekeepers, who have been for many years single-handedly maintaining peace and order in the conflict zone," Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for the ministry, said.

Earlier in the day, Georgian police released four Russian peacekeepers detained on Tuesday night for allegedly smuggling arms out of breakaway Abkhazia. Georgia's Interior Ministry claimed that the peacekeepers were transporting 35 crates of munitions, including guided missiles and anti-tank mines.

Nesterenko said that their detention violated all existing norms.

"This was done in violation of all regulations, in particular, the peacekeeping force's mandate," the diplomat said.

He also said that such a policy was aimed at worsening bilateral relations and that a host of recent incidents in Abkhazia had been staged by Tbilisi to this purpose.

"Such a policy is counterproductive in our opinion," he said.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been strained in recent months ever since Russia stepped up support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway Georgian republic, and sent more troops into the region. Tbilisi has accused the Kremlin of plans to annex the territories. Georgia's bid to join NATO has also been a cause of tension.

Georgia's brief detention of Russian officers on spying charges in 2006 resulted in a postal and transport blockade that was only lifted earlier this year.

Also on Wednesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, that provocations against Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone were unacceptable.

"Saakashvili has promised to look into the situation," the Kremlin press service said.

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