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Russia says its spies help protect Canada's troops

Written by: Staff

OTTAWA, Nov 24 (Reuters) Russia skirted charges that it had been spying in Canada, saying instead that Moscow's agents were handing over secret intelligence to help protect Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Last week, Montreal police arrested a man who Ottawa says is an elite Russian spy who had been living under a false Canadian identity for more than 10 years.

Georgy Mamedov, the Russian ambassador to Canada, said he knew nothing about the case and stressed instead what he said were close ties between Russia's spies and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

''It's very important for our special services to concentrate on co-operation now. By the way, we are sharing intelligence information with CSIS about Afghanistan, which helps to keep your forces out of harm's way,'' he said yesterday.

''And I think this should prevail and not these spy thrillers which can't even compete with (the latest James Bond film) 'Casino Royale','' he told CBC television.

Canada has 2,500 soldiers based in the southern Afghan region of Kandahar, scene of recent clashes with Taliban militants.

No one at CSIS -- Canada's spy agency -- or the Defence Department was immediately available for comment.

In May, Mamedov told Canadian reporters that ''your cannons are firing Russian ammunition in Afghanistan and your special forces are using small arms procured in Russia''.

Canada says the alleged Russian spy -- who went by the false name Paul William Hampel -- worked for Russia's elite SVR foreign intelligence service. Ottawa wants him deported.

''I don't run a spy shop here,'' said Mamedov when asked about the case. ''I don't have any information about that.'' Reuters SBA VP0542

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