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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Welcomes Peacekeepers

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze on Friday urged rapid deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway province of Abkhazia. Speaking to reporters after meeting with Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Shevardnadze said he hoped the peacekeeping force could be sent to Abkhazia "within a few days." It was unlikely, however, that any troops would be dispatched to the region before next week. President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree Thursday ordering deployment of peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia. But the order still needs approval from the upper house of Russia's parliament, which rejected the idea last week. Many lawmakers complained that Russia was being asked to bear the entire burden of maintaining peace in Abkhazia. The Commonwealth of Independent States has approved a joint peacekeeping force, but no other members have offered to send troops. The Abkhazian conflict began two years ago when Georgian troops marched into the coastal province to quell a separatist uprising. Last fall, the separatists drove Georgians from the region. An estimated 3,000 people died in the fighting. Grachev said Friday that once Yeltsin's decree was approved, it would take only three days to deploy three motorized infantry battalions from central Russiaa. Another three battalions stationed in the Caucasus could also be assigned to the peacekeeping force, he said. Grachev was touring the Caucasus in an apparent bid to increase Russian military presence. He also signed an agreement in Armenia establishing a permanent Russian military base there. Russia already has 23,000 troops in the Caucasus, a legacy from the Soviet era. After meeting with Shevardnadze, Grachev told reporters that Russian troops already stationed in Georgia could receive permanent status. Grachev was also scheduled to visit the Abkhazian separatist stronghold of Gudauta to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers with Abkhazia.