Territorial Integrity Should Be Respected Stresses Saakashvili

TBILISI (Combined Sources)–Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said that relations between Georgia and Russia’should be based on mutual respect for each country’s territorial integrity.

"I demand that officials of the Georgian government compare Georgia with Chechnya–as we respect Russia’s territorial integrity and want Russia to respect our territorial integrity," Saakashvili told a briefing on Tuesday.

Saakashvili said that Russia is in fact a participant in the conflict in Tskhinvali region. "The fact that Russia is taking part in the conflict has been known to us for a long time," he said.

Russian troops are gathering near South Ossetia–he said. "Our special services have had information about Russian troops and military vehicles gathering near the entrance to the Roki tunnel for a long time," Saakashvili said.

Thanks to measures taken by the Georgian authorities–"large-scale military activity" was avoided–Saakashvili said.

"The country has to be ready to defend itself at any moment," the president said. "We would like to negotiate with Russia–but it is not making any steps to help this," he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday dismissed as "inventions" and "unfounded statemen’s" allegations by Georgian politicians that Russia has moved more troops to the vicinity of the Georgian border.

A current Russian army exercise–which has been interpreted in Georgia as preparations for an invasion of the country’s breakaway region of South Ossetia–is a routine operation that was planned in 2003 and "has nothing to do with current events around Tskhinvali," ministry spokesman Col. Vyacheslav Sedov told Interfax.

The exercise is being held at a training ground in North Ossetia–a Russian region bordering South Ossetia–he said.

"Maybe it is seen in Georgia as a large-scale exercise–but for Russia it is part of daily routine," he said.

Meanwhile–the chairman of the Defense and National Security Committee of the Georgian parliament–Givi Targamadze–urged his country to prepare for a Russian attack.

"It appears that we cannot avoid Russian aggression–and so we must stop it–which is by no means an unfeasible task if one takes into account the Chechen experience," Targamadze told a news conference in Tbilisi.

Three hours before Georgia withdrew its forces from the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone last week–"Russian troops in North Ossetia were readied for march and were to enter the territory of South Ossetia via the Roki Tunnel," he said.

"Airborne troops and up to 40 combat helicopters were moved to a military airfield near the village of Upper Gizel–in the immediate vicinity of the Roki Tunnel," he said.

There were still up to 80 armored vehicles at a Russian military base near Oktyabrskoye village that "are intended to be moved into South Ossetia," he said.

Peacekeepers monitoring South Ossetia have located trip wires and US-made mines in the area–Irina Gagloyeva–head of the South Ossetian press and information committee–told Interfax by telephone on Tuesday.

"More than ten trip wires were discovered in the area of the Tskhinvali bypass road–from where Georgian servicemen were withdrawn. Twenty-five US-made mines were found in Georgian villages.

Apart from peacekeeping units–the monitoring operation in the area involves representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–she said.

The situation in the region is generally calm. No shelling has been reported so far. But people are waiting for what might happen with concern," she said.

Referring to South Ossetian security agencies–Gagloyeva said that Georgian servicemen are continuing to dig trenches and to build other fortification facilities near the villages of Tamarasheni–Kekhli and Kheit.


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