Extra Russian troops arrive in Abkhazia

More Russian troops have been deployed to the Georgian rebel zone of Abkhazia, despite Georgia's objections and concerns raised in NATO. The troops are setting up camps, defences and communications, according to Russian news agencies.


Extra Russian troops deployed Thursday in the Georgian separatist zone of Abkhazia, despite Georgia's objections and concern in NATO, news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying.

The soldiers "are completing their deployment at their positions in the Tkvarcheli district of Abkhazia," Russia's three main news agencies quoted the ministry press office as saying.

The troops were setting up camp, defences and communications, the ITAR-TASS, RIA Novosti and Interfax agencies said.

There was no immediate information about how many extra troops had been sent to bolster the force of more than 2,000 peacekeepers already deployed under accords ending the separatist war between Georgia and the Abkhaz minority in the early 1990s.

The defence ministry stressed that the "total number of Russian peacekeepers does not exceed the numerical limits agreed under international agreements," the agencies reported.

Tkvarcheli is an area near the Kodori Gorge, a forested mountain valley controlled at one end by the Abkhaz rebels, who have close links to Russia, and at the other by Georgians.

Moscow announced the extra deployment in response to what it said were Georgian plans to launch an assault on Abkhazia from the Kodori Gorge.

Georgia's pro-Western government has rejected the accusation and accuses Russia of annexing the rebel territory, where the separatist forces survive on financial and other help from Russia.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's special representative, David Bakradze, told AFP on Wednesday that the increase in Russian peacekeepers amounted to "the beginning of full scale military aggression."

NATO, which Georgia is pressing hard to join, warned Wednesday that Russia's latest moves in Abkhazia "have increased tensions and have undermined Georgia's territorial integrity."

"The allies are unanimous in supporting, endorsing Georgia's territorial integrity and will not recognise or support steps that undermine that sovereignty," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

The United States, which is Georgia's biggest ally, also said it was "concerned."

The Russian Foreign Ministry has stated it will intervene if war breaks out between Georgia and the Abkhaz separatists, citing the right to protect Russian citizens.

Most people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another smaller rebel zone, have Russian passports following Mosocw's policy of encouraging residents there to take up citizenship.

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