Georgia to verify legality of visas for Russian peacekeepers

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TBILISI, February 10 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's foreign minister said Friday that his ministry would review the legal aspects of introducing mandatory visas for Russia's peacekeepers in the country's conflict zones following the defense minister's announcement about introducing the new regime.

"We have entrusted our legal officers with thoroughly reviewing this issue to establish whether Russia's peacekeepers are exempt from Georgia's entry visas," Gela Bezhuashvili said. "As far as I know, a visa-free status for peacekeepers is not stipulated by any legal regulations."

Earlier on Friday Georgian Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili said his country was introducing visas for Russian peacekeepers in conflict zones.

"The visa regime was introduced by Russia and they are now reaping the rewards," he said.

Russia introduced a visa regime with Georgia in 2000 as a provisional measure to increase security on the Russian borders for fear of the possible spillover of violence from the turbulent Chechen Republic. Russia explained the move by citing what it called a lack of control on Georgian borders, which made it possible for gunmen to hide in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and then infiltrate Chechnya.

A new whirl of controversy between Georgia and Russia erupted after the arrest of three Russian peacekeepers Wednesday in Georgia for allegedly entering the republic through the Roksky tunnel that connects North and South Ossetia without visas. The peacekeepers were entitled to investigate the incident, which began February 1 with a road accident involving a convoy of peacekeepers and a car owned by a Georgian driver. After the accident, hundreds of armed Georgian policemen and soldiers arrived on the scene and confiscated the Russian truck until compensation had been paid.

After violence erupted between Georgia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s, Russian troops were stationed in the conflict zone as part of the Joint Collective Peacekeeping Forces.

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