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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Georgia and Russia spar over army base
Georgia base handover ceremony
The Vaziani base was handed over as agreed last week
Russia and Georgia are engaged in a war of words over the Russian army's failure to close a military base by a deadline agreed two years ago.

Map of Georgia
Russia pledged to shut down its base at Gudauta, in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, and to withdraw troops and equipment from one of its three other Soviet-era bases in Georgia at a summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, in Istanbul in 1999.

The Vaziani base outside Tbilisi was formally handed over on Friday, but Russian troops remain at Gudauta despite the expiry of the 1 July deadline.

Georgian parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania accused Russia of flouting the internationally brokered agreement and of "ignoring" alternative solutions proposed by Tbilisi.

Russian 'obstruction'

Georgian TV described the turn of events as "a classic example of obstruction" by the Russian military.

Georgian troops fly the flag at Vaziani
Georgian troops fly the flag at Vaziani
Russian military officials told the Georgian authorities last week that they wanted to keep 300 servicemen at Gudauta to guard the equipment at the base.

Georgia said it would consider Moscow's request to maintain a presence there only after all the equipment had been removed.

But on Tuesday the Russian Foreign Ministry said the pullout had not taken place because the Georgian side had not answered its request in time.

It is impossible to solve the problem... without an agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia

Russian commander Georgiy Shpak

The pullout has been complicated by Gudauta's location in Abkhazia, most of which has been outside the control of the Georgian central authorities since local separatist forces defeated government troops in a 1992-93 war.

At the time Georgia accused elements in the Russian military, including personnel at the Gudauta base, of covertly aiding the separatists.

The commander of Russia's Airborne Troops, Georgiy Shpak, said a week before the deadline expired that Russia would be unable to pull its troops and equipment out of Gudauta because local people, fearing the resumption of fighting with Georgian Government troops, were "blockading the base".

"It is impossible to solve the problem of disbandment and removal of the base at Gudauta without an agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia," he said.

Georgian accusations

Mr Zhvania, however, accused Moscow of using the Abkhaz opposition as a "pretext" and the Abkhaz of "stage-managing" the protests.

The Abkhaz themselves complain that Georgia, Russia and the OSCE have all ignored Abkhazia's views in their talks on the future of the base.

No date is set for withdrawal from two other bases
Last year Russia suggested transforming Gudauta into a "training and rehabilitation centre" for its 3,000-strong peacekeeping contingent, which has been deployed in Abkhazia since 1994.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze first indicated that Russia's proposals might be accepted, but later linked the issue to Russia dropping its plans to abolish visa-free travel between the two countries.

There have been no reports of the two sides discussing Russia's proposals since visas were introduced last December.

Talks continue

Speaking on Georgian radio on Monday, Mr Shevardnadze said that talks on the closure of the base would continue.

While stressing the need for "unconditional and unquestionable implementation of all the agreements reached earlier", he said he hoped that any decision would take into account both sides' national interests.

Apart from Russia's pullout from Gudauta and Vaziani, the Istanbul agreement also calls for the closure of its two other bases in Georgia but sets no date.

Russia says it needs 14 years to complete the process while Georgia says that three years is enough.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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