Russian peacekeepers heading for deployment site in Abkhazia

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Moscow, May 3 (UNI) Russian peacekeepers, who recently arrived in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone, are heading for areas where they will be stationed, RIA Novosti reported quoting the Russian Defence Ministry today.

Moscow increased the number of Russian peacekeepers in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia to 3,000 from 2,000, saying this was within the limits envisioned by earlier agreements on the number of peacekeeping troops signed by the Georgian leadership. Abkhazia, alongside another Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, broke away from the former Soviet republic in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and about 3,000 in Georgian-South Ossetian hostilities.

Georgia was looking to regain control over the two de facto independent regions.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi were escalating rapidly since Russia's outgoing President Vladimir Putin called for closer ties between Moscow and the two breakaway regions last month.

Georgia also accused Russia of shooting down a drone on April 20, a claim Russia denied, calling Georgia's video footage fake.

Russia threatened to use force if Georgia employed ''violent measures,'' against its peacekeepers or Russian nationals living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement on April 23, defended the increase in the number of peacekeepers, saying it was ''aimed at ensuring the basic rights of Abkhazia and South Ossetia's residents.'' NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the organisation believed that while Russia may technically have the right to increase troop numbers, ''in the political reality, this is not easing tensions, it is raising tensions.'' On Thursday, the Georgian Foreign Ministry handed over a protest note to the Russian ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko in Tbilisi against increasing the number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia.

''Russia has in no way violated the provisions and agreements that concern the presence of peacekeepers,'' Mr Kovalenko said after receiving the protest note.

UNI XC SKB AS1753

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