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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
Georgia and Russia plan Pankisi search
Georgian tanks in the Pankisi Gorge
Georgian forces have made few arrests
A Russian Government minister said on Friday that Georgia had agreed to joint operations to search for Chechen militants in the Pankisi Gorge - but this was immediately disputed by his Georgian counterpart.


We were talking about co-operation by the Georgian and Russian Interior Ministries on searching for specific individuals

Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili
Russia has been demanding access to the gorge for months, accusing Georgia of allowing rebels to take refuge there, and launch cross-border attacks.

"We have agreed that personnel from the Russian Interior Ministry will be staying in Georgia and looking, jointly with our colleagues, for international terrorists," said Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov in the Azeri capital Baku.

But Georgia's Koba Narchemashvili said there was no prospect of large-scale operations, merely "co-operation" in searching for specific individuals.

Few arrests

Georgia has long refused to allow Russian forces into the gorge.

Map of Georgia showing Pankisi gorge
In recent days the two countries have been engaged in a war of words over alleged bombing raids by Russian aircraft on territory near the gorge, in which at least one Georgian citizen has died.

But amid the friction with Russia, Georgia has welcomed US military instructors who are currently training Georgian forces to take on counter-terrorism operations.

Georgian troops began a sweep of the gorge on 25 August but have made few arrests.

"We were talking about co-operation by the Georgian and Russian Interior Ministries on searching for specific individuals who are being sought by the Russian side," Mr Narchemashvili said.

He added that if Russia asked for co-operation, Georgia could not refuse.

At least one key rebel commander, Ruslan Gelayev, is suspected by Russian officials of being on Georgian territory.

Putin letter

Mr Gryzlov said he estimated that there were more than 500 rebels in the gorge before the Georgian operation began.

Georgia is also co-operating with US officials who believe members of Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network may be in the Pankisi area.

A Georgian presidential spokesman said on Thursday that Russia was working on this with "US special services".

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote to his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, demanding that Georgian authorities take firmer action against militants in the Pankisi Gorge region.

He said it was unacceptable simply to push alleged terrorists out of the area, they needed to be "neutralised".

Georgia has previously countered such complaints by saying that Russia itself pushed the militants onto Georgian territory in the first place when it launched its second war in Chechnya in five years.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Parsons
"Something has emerged from the talks today"
David Glonti of Georgia's interior ministry
"There was no agreement"
See also:

02 Sep 02 | Europe
25 Aug 02 | Europe
05 Aug 02 | Europe
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