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Top Russian peacekeeper to stay - despite Georgian objections

The acting Commander of the Peacekeeping Forces in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone is to stay in his job. There are no plans to replace him.

The CIS Council of Ministers say they have confidence in General Sergey Chaban despite calls for his removal by the Georgian President.

Chaban can only be dismissed by the Council of the Heads of the CIS states.

The commander has been declared persona non grata by Georgia following a clash between Georgian police and Russian peacekeepers.

The speaker of the Georgian parliament Nino Burdzhanadze, insists Chaban's presence in Georgia is invalid.

“I think that Russia should recall General Chaban from Georgia as soon as possible – in one or two days.

It's clear that this is yet another provocation from the Georgian authorities. It was well-planned, but that does not make it any less crooked. Lately, President Saakashvili has been having some serious problems inside his country. The country is being shaken by scandals, all democratic rights and freedoms are being violated, and the opposition is being suppressed.

Konstantin Kosachev, the Head of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee

His presence in Georgia has been illegitimate from the outset, as we never agreed to him coming here.

After what happened on Tuesday, Russia must do something about it.

A civilized way would be for Russia to apologize, explain what happened and punish those guilty,” insists Mrs Burdzhanadze.

Russian officials have called the fracas a planned provocation.

The Russian ambassador to Georgia says Russia's version of the incident is diametrically opposed to what Georgian officials are saying.

“Our version of what happened contradicts the Georgians'. We know the incident was provoked by a Georgian patrol, by a Georgian major in particular who behaved in an aggressive manner and threatened the lives of the peacekeepers who were patrolling the area.

That is why the Russian peacekeepers made a decision to disarm those people and neutralise their attempts to threaten lives,” contends Vyacheslav Kovalenko, the Russian ambassador to Georgia.

Saakashvili's ultimatum

On Tuesday Saakashvili demanded the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia, General Sergey Chaban, leave Georgia within a day. Georgian President made a statement at a special session of the country's National Security council that's been convened to discuss an incident between Georgian troops and the peacekeepers.

“We demand your military leave the county. General Chaban is persona non grata in Georgia. We demand to stop all the provocations. We won't tolerate any similar incident and will respond immediately,” said Mikhail Saakashvili.

The incident started Tuesday morning. The Russian peacekeepers said they were patrolling an area near the Black Sea coast looking for dead animals as part of a hygienic mission, when three Georgian policemen approached the peacekeepers' armoured vehicle and threatened to burn it.

“Georgian soldiers threatened peacekeepers. They said they would burn down their armoured carrier and shoot them. They also tried to prevent them from performing their mission,” said General Sergey Chaban.

Russian peacekeepers disarmed and detained Georgian policemen but later handed them back to the Georgian side.

President Saakashvili and other Georgian top officials visited the scene where they called for the commander of the Russian peacekeepers forces to leave Abkhazia.

The Abkhazian side says that Georgia is merely trying to discredit the Russian peacekeeping force which has been in the conflict zone since the end of the Abkhaz-Georgian war in early 1990s. There was some violence over those years but no serious hostilities have broken out.

“Georgians want to switch everyone's attention from tension within the country to appease peacekeepers. They use it as a pretext. Then they will talk about all the peacekeepers leaving the region,” commented the President of Abkhazia Sergey Bagapsh.