Georgia demands withdrawal of Russian troops from Abkhazia

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Moscow, May 22 (UNI) After assuring Russia that it does not intend to invade its breakaway republic of Abkhazia on its part, Georgia has strongly demanded the withdrawl of ''Russian troops'' from the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry has sent a protest note to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) secretariat in this regard.

''The Georgian side demands from the CIS executive committee that illegal Russian armed forces disguised as CIS Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone be immediately withdrawn,'' the ministry was quoted as saying by Ria Novosti yesterday.

The ministry said according to the UN, an airborne battalion, 50 BMD-2 airborne combat vehicles, two artillery batteries, each with five D-30 howitzers, have been deployed in Abkhazia. The ministry said this was out of line with a 1995 resolution of the CIS presidents' council.

Abkhazia is one of Georgia's two breakaway de facto independent republics, along with South Ossetia, that broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the 1990s. Moscow recently bolstered the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia in response to a Georgian troop build up, but said the increase was still within previously agreed limits.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have drastically deteriorated since Russia's former president Vladimir Putin called for closer ties between Moscow and the two breakaway republics in mid-April.

Georgia has accused Russia of trying to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Moscow says Tbilisi is planning to invade Abkhazia.

The prolonged tensions over the issue had let to Georgia threatening Russia its coveted World Trade Organisation (WTO) entry, though it has said that it will give conditional nod to Russian entry into the world body.

Parliamentary elections were held yesterday in Georgia with opposition charging the ruling party, the United National Movement party of President Mikhail Saakashvili's of rigging the elections amid this standoff with Russia.

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