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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Georgian parliament demands Russian troops leave

TBILISI, July 18(Reuters) - Georgia's parliament on Tuesday demanded Russian troops stationed in breakaway regions leave and be replaced by an international force, saying their presence amounted to "annexation" and "support of separatism".

Tbilisi accuses Moscow of stirring tensions in the rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- home to "frozen conflicts" dating back to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On Sunday, President Mikhail Saakashvili warned Russia that Georgia could block its entry into the World Trade Organisation if it does not end its support for the two regions.

The resolution, which is not binding and has no deadline, condemned the peacekeeping operations, describing "the actions of Russia as a constant attempt at annexation of these parts of the territory of Georgia".

"The actions of Russia's military forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are one of the main barriers to a peaceful resolution of the conflicts, caused by the absence of political will in Russia to promote the process of the peaceful resolution," the parliament said in the resolution.

Russia considers the troops to be key to stopping a resumption of the wars that gripped the regions in 1992-3.

The rebel regions also refuse to countenance the troops leaving, seeing them as defence against Georgian attack.

"This is yet another irresponsible and thoughtless step by Georgia on the way to a military resolution of the conflicts in Abkhazia nad South Ossettia and will lead only to a humanitarian catastrophe," Sergei Shamba, Abkhazia's foreign minister, told Interfax news agency after the vote.

Russia repeatedly warned over the weekend that Georgia was planning to send troops to regain control of South Ossetia, which receives financial support from Moscow and where most residents have been given Russian passports.

It warned that attacks would not go unanswered.

"We should be ready for difficulties as Russia will not forgive this decision from little Georgia... We'll do our best to resolve these conflicts by peaceful means as we don't want our children to meet on the battlefield," Nino Burjanadze, parliamentary speaker said.

Georgia, a former Soviet republic long in Moscow's shadow, has increasingly sought to disassociate itself from the Kremlin since a peaceful revolution in 2003 brought the west-leaning Saakashvili to power.
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