Georgia blames Russian militants for clash near border

30 August 2012
Georgia on Thursday showed off the bodies of 11 alleged Muslim gunmen from Russia who it said killed three of its servicemen in the worst violence near the ex-Soviet foes' border since their 2008 war.

Georgia said the gunmen died on Wednesday when special forces confronted an armed gang which crossed over from Russia's North Caucasus region of Dagestan, where the Kremlin has been battling an Islamic insurgency.

Georgian television images of the alleged gunmen's bodies suggested that they could have been Islamic rebel fighters.

The footage showed several corpses clad in camouflage fatigues, along with an array of machine guns, automatic rifles, rocket launchers, communications equipment and copies of the Koran which they were said to have been carrying.

"Some of them (the dead gunmen) were Russian citizens from the North Caucasus," the interior ministry said in a statement.

President Mikheil Saakashvili said that they should be buried in accordance with Islamic customs.

"We must bury them with full respect to Muslim traditions," he said in comments broadcast on Georgian television.

Officials said special forces were still hunting wounded members of the gang of around 20 gunmen in a remote Caucasus mountain gorge.

"The operation is nearly completed. We have ensured the security of our citizens and our borders," Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili said in televised comments.

Russia has been trying to crush a long-running Islamist insurgency on its side of the border, which stretches across Dagestan and the fellow strife-torn republic of Chechnya.

Moscow has often accused Tbilisi of offering a safe haven for militant fighters from the North Caucasus, a charge strongly denied by Georgia's Western-backed authorities.

Saakashvili said Wednesday that instability in southern Russia would not be allowed to spread across the Caucasus mountains into his country.

"The Georgian state will not allow turmoil, instability and violence on the territory of our neighbouring country to spill over into Georgia in any form, and to pose a threat to our civilians and our peaceful development," he said.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have remained tense since the 2008 war, when Russian forces pushed deep into Georgia to repel its military attempt to regain control over the Moscow-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia.


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