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TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ American assistance is a key element for maintaining security in the volatile Pankisi Gorge, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Friday while greeting officers who completed U.S. anti-terror training.

Also Friday, Georgian officials rejected Russia's demands to let its forces attack rebels holed up in the lawless region near Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya, saying Georgian forces would handle the problem.

Georgian Security Minister Valery Khaburdzaniya said his nation would ``take measures'' against the rebels in Pankisi ``if not today, then tomorrow or the day after.'' Khaburdzaniya, who has estimated rebel numbers at 800, said Friday the number has dwindled in recent weeks.

Russian officials have accused Georgia of letting some 60 Chechen rebels cross into breakaway Chechnya a week ago and called on Shevardnadze to let Russian troops move into the Pankisi Gorge for action against rebels.

The fighting in southern Chechnya's mountains has killed at least eight Russian border guards and most of the invading rebels, Russian officials said.

The United States has launched a $64 million ``train and equip'' program to help Georgia handle the rebels, accused by Washington of being linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. Lt. Col. Robert M. Waltemeyer, the commander of American trainers, hailed the ``unprecedented'' interagency cooperation during the training program.

Shevardnadze said the U.S. help was an ``honor'' for Georgia, which is eager to participate in the U.S-led global campaign against terror. The 10-week training course for the 200 Georgian army, security and border-guard officers will be followed by specialist training for four anti-terror battalions.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a Georgian shepherd a medal for courage for tipping off Russian troops about the cross-border raid by the rebels. Levan Telidze said on Russian television that he first approached the Georgian border guards but they said they did not care about the rebels.

Georgian Border Guards chief Valery Chkheidze angrily dismissed Telidze's claim and said Georgia would demand his extradition for illegally crossing the border. Georgian officials said they were unaware of a rebel incursion from its territory.