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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov: Rebels Had Georgian ID Papers

Tension between Russia and Georgia continued to rise Monday as Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov claimed that some of the rebels killed recently by federal forces in Chechnya had Georgian refugee identification cards, while Georgia accused Russian border guards and Abkhaz separatists of crossing illegally onto its territory and firing at a Georgian helicopter.

Ivanov asserted that some Chechen rebels killed after crossing the border from Georgia were men who had been listed as missing by their relatives following search operations in which federal troops question and detain Chechens they suspect of rebel activity. Chechen civilians and human rights groups say that dozens of civilians are killed every month as a result of the operations, mostly young men who are detained and never seen again.

"I think you clearly understand what the reality was, when the rebels accused federal forces of ... inhumane treatment, atrocities, etc., and in the meantime they were quietly leaving for Georgia where they were trained for terrorist acts, and now they tried to return home," Ivanov said on ORT television.

Ivanov, who was meeting with military officials in Russia's Kabardino-Balkaria region, also said Georgia could not oust rebels from its lawless Pankisi Gorge without Russia's help and "it is no secret that official Tbilisi indulges them."

Georgian officials acknowledge that there may be rebels among the Chechen refugees who have crossed the border into the gorge, but refuse to allow Russian military activity on the ground and blame the problem on Moscow.

"The problem was not created by Georgia. It is the result of one of the tragic problems of Chechnya," Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said in his weekly radio address Monday.

Shevardnadze also said that forces from Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia had entered Georgian-controlled territory and fired on a Georgian helicopter Sunday. The alleged incursion by the 40-man unit followed a separate advance by Russian border guard units into Georgia a week ago, said Emzar Kvitsiani, the Georgian presidential envoy to the disputed region. The Russians left after Georgia complained, Kvitsiani said.

Both Russia and Abkhazia denied the accusations, and an Abkhaz official insisted it was Georgia that invaded his republic's territory.

Vice President Valery Arshba denied that Abkhaz forces had crossed into Georgian-controlled territory or fired on a Georgian helicopter. "On the contrary, a helicopter from the Georgian side crossed into our territory Sunday," he said. "A warning shot was made. If there is another such case, we'll shoot it down."

(AP, MT)