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Georgia detains Russian peacekeepers, confiscates ‘illegal’ missiles

By Temuri Kiguradze
Thursday, June 19
Georgia briefly detained four Russian peacekeepers south of the Abkhazian conflict zone two days ago and confiscated anti-tank missiles which Tbilisi officials say violate the peacekeeping mandate.

Moscow says its peacekeepers, who were released hours later, were acting legally and demands the immediate return of the missiles.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in a telephone conversation yesterday that “provocations” against Russian peacekeepers are “unacceptable,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported, quoting a Kremlin statement.

The incident was a top news story in Georgia, with television stations broadcasting images of troops unloading boxes of missiles bearing Russian markings and Russian soldiers being bundled into unmarked Nivas.

Mamuka Kurashvili, head of Georgian peacekeeping operations, said the Russian troops were unlawfully transiting military hardware to a Russian checkpoint in Zugdidi district, just south of breakaway Abkhazia.

“Guided anti-tank missiles were among the ammunition being transported by the peacekeepers,” Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told journalists.

He said the documentation provided by the peacekeepers did not account for the cargo they were carrying.

“We have no idea why peacekeepers would need guided missiles in the conflict zone,” he said.

Russian denies its troops violated its peacekeeping mandate. Vladimir Rogozin, a commander of Russian peacekeeping forces, described the detention as “illegal and uncivilized,” and called on the Georgian side to return the confiscated hardware.

Another representative of the Russian forces said the peacekeepers were transporting “standard antitank missiles” belonging to an antitank platoon of a battalion that has been operating in the conflict zone for years, and pointed out that both the Georgian and the Abkhaz operate tank divisions.

Georgian officials ruled out returning the hardware. An Interior Ministry representative said Tbilisi saw no grounds for giving back the missiles to the peacekeepers, reiterating that they were being transited illegally and without proper documentation.

Georgia has stepped up calls for a revision of the Russian-led peacekeeping format in its conflict regions in recent weeks after Russia moved to increase formal ties with the separatist regimes before deploying additional troops to Abkhazia.