Rail Troops Will Leave Abkhazia

The Defense Ministry said Saturday that it would withdraw 400 soldiers sent to repair damaged railroad lines in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia within the next two months.

The extra soldiers have angered Georgia and its allies in the West, who have called for Russia to withdraw them.

"It is expected they will leave the republic in the next two months," Defense Ministry spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov said, Interfax reported.

Abkhazia is a sliver of land wedged between the Black Sea and Russia that broke away from Georgia in a war after the Soviet collapse.

Under the terms of a 1994 cease-fire, Russia is allowed 3,000 soldiers to patrol between the two sides. This year Moscow has accused Georgia of planning to invade Abkhazia and has sent extra soldiers to bolster the peacekeeping contingent.

The extra 400 soldiers, who arrived in Abkhazia on May 31 to repair railroad lines, were deployed in addition to the peacekeepers.

Kuznetsov defended their presence and said they would leave after they had repaired 54 kilometers of railway.

"The extra battalion in Abkhazia poses no threat to Georgia," Kuznetsov said. "They are not armed, they are just construction workers."

Georgia accuses Russia of trying to undermine its stability by supporting the rebels. Georgia is seeking NATO membership, an ambition that angers Russia.