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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Nato exercises start in Georgia
Bulgarian and Georgian soldiers
Troops from 15 countries are taking part

Military exercises involving Nato troops and Georgian forces have begun at a military base near Tbilisi.

The exercises, within the framework of the alliance's Partnership for Peace, involve about 600 troops from 15 countries and will focus on peacekeeping skills.

As the troops arrived in Georgia, President Eduard Shevardnadze told national radio that Nato had to play an important role in ensuring stability in the volatile Caucasus region.


The military exercises confirm how close relations between Nato and Georgia are

Georgian President
Eduard Shevardnadze
He added that while his country intended to further deepen its co-operation with Nato, the membership in the alliance "was not on today's agenda."

"The military exercises confirm how close relations between Nato and Georgia are," Mr Shevardnadze said.

Last month, US military instructors arrived at this former Russian base to train Georgian officers in anti-terrorist operations.

Their arrival was received with suspicion from the Russian military and nationalist politicians, though the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, argued that the Americans would help curb the spread of militants from Chechnya.

Stretcher-carrying exercise
Georgia says its Nato links are important
But separatists in the Georgian autonomous region of Abkhazia allege that both the American presence and the Nato exercises are aimed at intimidating them, and may indicate that Georgia is planning another war against Abkhazia.

In his radio address, Mr Shevardnadze tried to reassure the Abkhaz side that the joint exercises with Nato had no bearing on the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.

In the meantime, it has been reported that 13 machine guns and 24 portable radio stations were stolen from the Vasiani base on the eve of the exercises.

The Georgian Minister for State Security described this as an attempt by foreign agents to disrupt the exercises. He did not specify their nationality though.

See also:

19 May 02 | Europe
27 Feb 02 | Europe
31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
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