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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevardnadze Accuses Russia of Land Theft




TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze accused Russia on Monday of stealing neutral territory between the two republics by moving a border post in a disputed zone.


Shevardnadze said "individual leaders" in Russia's border service wanted to raise tensions between Georgia's and Russia's ethnic republic of North Ossetia.


"I think we are dealing with a far-sighted game of intrigue, I mean individual leaders in the border service who are trying to put Georgia and Ossetia against one another," he said in his weekly radio interview.


"This won't happen. Relations between Georgia and North Ossetia will not take a turn for the worse," he said.


Georgians and ethnic Ossetians from Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia clashed in a 1991-92 war, leaving relations strained.


Russian border guards scuffled with about 50 Georgian activists at the disputed border crossing Saturday, witnesses said.


The Georgians said black-masked Russian special forces used electric stun guns to drive back protesters as they approached a Russian armored personnel carrier near the border.


The Russian border guards service denied any altercation took place and called the Georgian version of events "a deliberate provocation."


But Tbilisi said Russian border guards "illegally" moved their post 1.3 kilometers deep into a disputed 3-kilometer zone last week. The row involved the crossing at Verkhny Lars, about 150 kilometers north of Tbilisi, in rugged mountain territory.


In Moscow on Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the attitude of Georgian government officials and its media towards Russia.


Georgia and Russia set up a commission last year to deal with borders.


The Verkhny Lars crossing is the only viable one between the two countries as the two other possible routes run through Georgian territory controlled by separatist groups. Shevardnadze wrote to President Boris Yeltsin Friday, demanding the post be moved back to its old position.


"Negotiations about disputed territory often go on for years and decades. Neither side has the right to resolve any problem by force. The Russian border guards used methods that have become typical for them," said Shevardnadze.


"They took neutral territory. They had no right to take this territory," he said.


Russia said the issue is a simple misunderstanding and that it merely moved its post closer to the limit of its own territory. It added that Georgia in 1957, then a republic of the Soviet Union, ceded the territory in question under a joint agreement.