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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops in Abkhazia Begin Mission

Russian peacekeeping forces began operations in Abkhazia Wednesday, prompting legislators to summon Defense Minister Pavel Grachev to explain why the mission in the breakaway region on Georgia's Black Sea coast started without parliamentary approval. Russian television reported that a detachment of engineers of the 345th battalion began removing mines near the border between Georgia and Abkhazia as part of a mission that will ultimately involve up to 3,000 Russian troops in the region, the scene of nearly two years of armed conflict. Deputy Defense Minister Georgy Kondratyev, arriving in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi to head the peacekeeping effort, said Russian troops would be deployed along the front lines dividing the Georgian army from Abkhaz forces, Interfax reported. The peacekeeping mission was met with protest by nationalist deputies in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, who accused the government of risking Russian lives to prop up Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze. "These peacekeeping operations are being sent to hold up the pants of the falling regime of Shevardnadze and will involve only new corpses and broken families," said Yevgeny Loginov of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, who demanded Grachev provide an explanation to the Duma. Without further debate or a vote, Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin agreed to summon Grachev to the house Friday. Moslem separatists in Abkhazia fought for independence from Georgia for 14 months, finally driving out the Georgian army from the region last fall. More than 3,000 people died and nearly 300,000 ethnic Georgians fled their homes in Abkhazia. Georgia initially opposed the involvement of Russian troops, but although there are still opponents, Shevardnadze has gradually accepted the idea after months of diplomacy and pressure from Moscow. The Duma has no legal say in the placement of troops. But the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, rejected the idea of sending Russian troops to Abkhazia last week. However, President Boris Yeltsin ordered the peacekeeping mission to go ahead anyway. Despite the cease-fire, sporadic fighting has continued along Abkhazia's border with the rest of Georgia. A spokesman for speaker Vladimir Shumeiko said that the Federation Council would open its next session Tuesday with a debate on the peacekeeping mission.