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18 Jun, 2008 14:49

Georgia releases Russian peacekeepers accused of smuggling

Four Russians detained by Georgian police in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone on Tuesday have been released.

Georgia says the men were smuggling arms and seized their cargo.

But Russia says they were peacekeepers and were transporting the weapons legally.

The Russian Defence Ministry has insisted that Georgia returns the vehicle and ammunition that has been seized.

“The four detainees were freed after nine hours of questioning,” Georgian police said. “They were given back their automatic weapons and passports. The military cargo was confiscated.”

The peacekeepers say they were ambushed by what they describe as “unidentified armed civilians”.

“We were stopped by people dressed in civilian clothes handling guns. They dismounted from two non-military cars. They aimed their guns at us. We told them we are peacekeepers. But they ignored us. They didn’t even want to see our documents,” Roman Dolgalyov, a detained CIS Peacekeeper, said. 
Dolgalyov said it seemed like a pre-planned operation. The armed men beat him and his comrades, took their weapons and pushed them into a truck and Georgian TV crews were there, ready to record it.

Russia's Defence Ministry has called the detention a breach of the peacekeeping mandate.

Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “According to regulatory acts, the security zone can only be checked by representatives of the CIS collective peacekeeping force. Georgian police broke those acts by detaining the truck. Statements about illegal ammunition on the truck are absolutely false. They were standard weapons belonging to the collective peacekeeping force that is located in the conflict zone.”

Konashenkov added that the incident was a provocation planned by Georgian secret services and aimed at discrediting Russian peacekeepers.

“It escalates tension in the region, disrupts the mutual trust and undermines the peace process,” he said.

The incident is yet another dispute in the area which is being supervised by UN observers and Russian peacekeepers.

Abkhazia's push for independence from Georgia led to a year-long war in the early 90s, but the breakaway republic hasn't been internationally recognised.

Medvedev says provocations are unacceptable

And during a telephone conversation with his Georgian counterpart Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said further provocations against peacekeepers in the conflict zone are unacceptable.

According to the Kremlin press-service, Mikhail Saakashvili promised to look into the incident.

Abkhazia accuses Georgia of resuming spy flights

Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia says Tbilisi has resumed flights of its spy drones over the region's territory.

It claims two planes were spotted last week over the area which is controlled by peacekeeping forces.

Georgia's Interior Ministry denies the accusations, calling them a deliberate act of misinformation.

Blasts in Abkhazia aimed at Russians

Meanwhile, two bombs have exploded on a railroad near the Abkhazian capital, Sukhumi. Eyewitnesses say the blasts occurred within 7-10 minute intervals.

The incident happened in the area, where Russian soldiers had been repairing the track. It is rumored the blast were targeted against Russian railway troops.

No casualties have been reported and security has been stepped up in the area.