Georgia to Pull Forces From Kosovo

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia will withdraw its peacekeeping contingent from Kosovo later this week, Georgian First Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia said Monday

"We plan to withdraw our peacekeepers this week," Kutelia said. "This is 180 people."

He said the withdrawal was to free up troops for deployment in Afghanistan.

He denied that Georgia's decision to pull out the peacekeepers was in retaliation for a NATO decision earlier this month to rebuff U.S. demands to put Georgia and Ukraine on an immediate path to NATO membership.

"Any talk that this [troop withdrawal] can be linked to the resolutions of the NATO summit in Bucharest is irrelevant," Kutelia said.

At the summit, Germany, France and smaller NATO nations withstood pressure from U.S. President George W. Bush to offer the two former Soviet nations a Membership Action Plan, a first step towards entry.

Russia has watched with unease NATO's expansion, and President Vladimir Putin has said further expansion of the alliance eastwards would be viewed by Moscow as a direct threat to its security.