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12:21 GMT +3 hours19 December 2014
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Russia says rail troops to leave Abkhazia within 2 months - 2

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Russian railroad troops will leave Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia within two months, Russia's defense minister said on Saturday.
(Adds Abkhaz foreign minister reaction in last two paras)

ST. PETERSBURG, June 7 (RIA Novosti) - Russian railroad troops will leave Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia within two months, Russia's defense minister said on Saturday.

Around 300 Russian railroad troops arrived in the self-proclaimed republic on May 31 as part of a Moscow humanitarian assistance initiative for Abkhazia.

"There is no contingent in Abkhazia that would threaten Georgia, there are only construction workers who will leave Abkhazia once their work to restore the railroad has been completed," Anatoly Serdyukov said.

The deployment met a furious reaction from Georgia, which accused Moscow of preparing for military intervention.

Relations between Russian and its ex-Soviet ally have deteriorated greatly in recent years over Russia's support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another separatist region in Georgia, and Tbilisi's drive for NATO membership.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged Russia on Tuesday to pull its unarmed railroad troops out of Abkhazia.

In April Russia's then president Vladimir Putin called for closer ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, provoking fury from Tbilisi, which accused Moscow of trying to annex the regions.

Russian forces have been stationed in the republics as part of CIS collective peacekeeping forces since bloody conflicts between the regions and Tbilisi in the early 1990s. Georgia has called for the Russian peacekeepers to be replaced by an international force.

Commenting on Serdyukov's statement over the timeframe for the withdrawal of railroad troops, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told RIA Novosti on the phone that in his opinion, the rail repairs could take more than two months.

"We have other thoughts on the timeframe," he said, adding that it could take 3-4 months, if not longer.