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Russia Accuses Georgia of Rebel Aid

August 14, 2002

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MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia accused Georgia on Wednesday of directly aiding Chechen rebels, claiming that a Georgian man in military uniform met repeatedly with rebels in Georgia’s lawless Pankisi Gorge and accompanied militants to the Chechen border to ensure them safe passage across the frontier.

Col. Boris Podoprigora, the deputy commander of Russian forces in the North Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya, said that a Chechen rebel who was captured near the Georgian border had told Russian interrogators about the alleged Georgian help.

The colonel’s accusation, published by Russian news agencies and broadcast on Russian television channels, was the latest in a series of recriminations between Russia and Georgia over Chechen rebel activity along their border and continuing tensions in Georgia’s separatist Abkhazia region, which has received support from Russia.

A Georgian military official said the border was hard to control but said the Russian evidence proved nothing.

``We do not deny that there are violations of the Georgian-Russian border, from both sides,″ Georgian Lt. Gen. Valery Chkheidze told The Associated Press in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. ``As to this concrete case ... I can’t say anything. The claim that a Georgian in military uniform came and allowed them to cross the border _ this is not proof″ of Georgian involvement.

Georgia has turned down requests to allow Russian troops to launch raids in the gorge. However, Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze said Tuesday that the military was planning large-scale exercises in the region, and the troops would include officers being trained by U.S. military trainers as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Podoprigora said suspected Chechen rebel, Ali Duriyev, was arrested on Tuesday, about 2 1/2 weeks after crossing into Russia with a 60-strong militant group, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. The rebel said that militants generally received about two years of training in rebel camps in the Pankisi Gorge, and that their trainers were mainly from Islamic countries, according to the ITAR-Tass account.

Duriyev was said to have described an instructor in Georgian military uniform who ``differed markedly from other mercenary instructors and ... could have ties to official Georgian structures,″ Podoprigora said in comments broadcast on Russia’s TVS television.

Duriyev testified that the supposed Georgian officer gave ``absolutely professional instruction″ to the rebel group’s leaders, provided the group with two horses to aid in the border crossing, and personally accompanied them to the Russian border, Podoprigora said.

Chkheidze, the Georgian lieutenant general said his government was doing everything possible to secure the border but it had few resources.

``The Russians have far greater resources for controlling the border and even they cannot seal it off completely,″ he said.

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