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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Georgia accuses Russia of 'barbarism'
Georgian troops inspect a bombed-out military vehicle that was allegedly hit during the Russian raid. Moscow denies the claim.
Georgia and Russia have stepped up their war of words
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has used his visit to the lawless Pankisi Gorge to renew harsh criticism of Russia's alleged air raid on Georgia's territory.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze
Shevardnadze called bombing "an act of barbarism"
"The Russian bombing of Georgian villages has broken all limits," Mr Shevardnadze said attending the funeral of a local villager, allegedly killed during last Friday's raid.

"This is not just a tragedy for one family. This is a tragedy for the entire village, for Georgia, for the world. The entire world feels your pain."

Georgia and Russia have stepped up the war of words over the Pankisi Gorge on the border with Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya after Tbilisi accused Moscow of aggression.

The US has condemned the reported Russian attack, saying Moscow was violating Georgia's sovereignty.

Russia strongly denies the accusations, and in turn claims that Georgia has failed to act against Chechen rebels, who Moscow believes use the gorge as a shelter.

'Absolute crisis'

Mr Shevardnadze's trip to the Pankisi Gorge follows Georgia's decision to send about 1,000 troops to flush out the Chechen rebels.

Map of Georgia showing Pankisi gorge

Attending the funeral in the village of Matani, President Shevardnadze again accused Russia of the air raid, in which Tbilisi claims at least one person was killed and five others were injured.

"We do not blame the Russian people. The guilty party is the one who gave the order to allow such an act of barbarism before Georgia and the world."

The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov says that the latest incident has thrown the already tense relations between Georgia and Russia into what one Russian lawmaker described as an "absolute crisis".

Georgia's ambassador to the UN has accused Russia of state terrorism and talks on a major bilateral treaty have been broken off.

On Monday, the Georgian Parliament - in its harshest reaction yet - voted for the country's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of the former Soviet Republics.

Georgian MPs also demanded the expulsion of Russian peacekeepers from Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia.

Moscow's anger

The move has triggered an angry rebuff from Moscow.

Russian politicians accused Georgia of trying to cover up its own military blunder in the Pankisi gorge.

Moscow claims Georgian forces are ill-equipped to deal with the battle-hardened Chechen rebels.

Russia has suggested to launch a joint operation to round them up, and even threatened a military action if Georgia would fail to flush the rebels.

But Georgia preferred the US help in training its troops. It also said it troops failed to find any rebels in the gorge.

Russia has reacted furiously, saying that Tbilisi had tipped the rebels off by publicly announcing that it was about to move troops into the area.

Russian politicians are also angry at the American support of the Georgian version of events.

Russian lawmakers say Washington should not take Tbilisi's word against that of Moscow.

They also claim that Washington does not shy away from violating other countries' sovereignty while pursuing terrorists.

But our correspondent says there are sober voices in Moscow suggesting that President Putin - who has been staying away from the row - should meet President Shevardnadze and try to defuse the crisis.

The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov
"Russia is scornful, saying Georgia will fail without its help"

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