RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO GEORGIA CAUTIONS AGAINST PROVOKING BLOODSHED IN ADZHARIA

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TBILISI, May 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Chkhikvishvili believes that preventing bloodshed in the rebellious province of Adzharia should be the topmost priority now with the Georgian government and all other sides concerned. He made his view clear as he spoke to reporters Wednesday, after a meeting with the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili.

"The important thing... is to prevent bloodshed in Adzharia. All the rest is Georgia's domestic affairs, to be solved without outside interference. But the use of force by either [conflicting] side would be a tragedy not just for Georgia, but for the region at large, and I think this may adversely affect the Russo-Georgian relations," the Georgia Novosti news agency quotes the Russian ambassador as saying.

"I am in no position to comment on Georgia's domestic affairs; we keep absolute neutrality on this issue," Chkhikvishvili said.

He reassured his audience that the 12th Russian military base in Adzharia was maintaining absolute neutrality and that its service men and women may respond only to provocative acts, such as an attempt to seize arms.

According to the Russian ambassador, Moscow and Tbilisi maintain dialogue, including at the presidential level, on all issues of mutual concern, including Adzharian developments.

Commenting on allegations by Georgian law-enforcement agencies that the retired Russian general Yuri Netkachev trained militiamen for the Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze and on May 2 orchestrated the demolition of the bridges linking Adzharia with the rest of Georgia, Chkhikvishvili said: "Netkachev has been out of the Russian army for quite a while now. I don't know for sure where he's working [now] or whether he works at all. This is a private affair of his." In the meantime, Georgian President Saakashvili and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov are in negotiations with Abashidze over security guarantees in the event of his resignation, National Security Secretary Vano Merabishvili said Wednesday.

"We don't rule out Luzhkov's arrival in [the Adzharian capital of] Batumi tonight," Merabishvili said. Adzharia's security and law-enforcement bodies still reporting to Abashidze have been given two hours for filing their resignations and taking the central government's side, he said.

"I am urging all those who have not yet expressed their loyalty and willingness to obey to the Commander-in-Chief's [orders] to do so. Otherwise, bloodshed will be impossible to avert," Merabishvili said at a news briefing in Tbilisi.

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