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Russia pulling out military hardware from Georgia before schedule

Written by: Staff
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Moscow, May 13 (UNI) Russia has started loading first train of the military hardware of its 62nd military base in Georgia's Akhalkalaki, ahead of the schedule to withdraw from the former Soviet republic.

Russia and Georgia signed an agreement on March 31, under which Russian troops stationed at two bases at Akhalkalaki and Batumi in the neighbouring republic, are to withdraw by 2008. The pullout from Akhalkalaki, about 30 kilometres from the border with Turkey, is to be completed by December 2006.

''The loading is proceeding ahead of schedule. Georgia has provided all necessary conditions at the railroad station of Tsalka, and therefore it will only be necessary to fasten the hardware on the railroad platforms and fulfill all customs and other formalities tomorrow,'' Russian military contingent in the South Caucasus Commander Maj Gen Andrei Popov told Interfax news agency.

The head of the Russian land troops' information service Igor Konoshenkov said seven T-72 main battle tanks, six BRDM-2 armoured reconnaissance vehicles, two BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers and four communications vehicles were being loaded on the train at a railway station in Tsalka, 100 kilometres east of Akhalkalaki.

The loading would take two days and the train would head for Russia via Azerbaijan on May 15, he added.

Mr Konoshenkov said enough material had been pulled to the Tsalka station to load another train adding that the second train to Russia would depart on May 23.

Georgian Deputy Chief of General Staff Col Alexander Kiknadze told the agency that the Georgian Defence Ministry had taken all possible measures to avoid delays in loading the hardware and dispatching the train.

''The flaws that hampered the sending of Russian military hardware last year have been avoided now. Officials from the Interior Ministry, the customs and other agencies are present at the loading site to promptly perform their duties,'' Mr Kiknadze said. A total of 21 trains will be required to withdraw military hardware from Akhalkalaki before October 2006, and one more train will deliver the materiAl from the Batumi base to Russia via Azerbaijan, Mr Konoshenkov said .

Georgia will be responsible for the security of the trains until they reach the border with Azerbaijan, where the Azerbaijani officials will take over, he said.

UNI XC DKS VC1915

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