No rush for Russian peacekeepers to obtain visas by Mar. 10

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MOSCOW, March 2 (RIA Novosti, Andrei Malyshkin) - A senior Georgian official has allayed fears sparked by a statement from the head of the country's military police that Russian peacekeepers in Georgia will have to meet new visa requirements, a Russian foreign ministry official said Thursday.

Ambassador-at-large Valery Kenyaikin said Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze had met with his Russian counterpart, Grigory Karasin, in Moscow Tuesday to discuss Alexander Sukhitashvili's statement that the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Georgia would be illegal if they did not obtain visas by March 10.

"While in Moscow, the Georgian foreign ministry official denied the statement made by the military police chief, stating that it was his [Sukhitashvili's] personal initiative, which had nothing to do with the official Georgian position," Kenyaikin said. "This threat was no more than a verbal drill. The Georgian side officially informed us that the statement did not correspond with the position of the country's administration."

The headquarters of the Joint Collective Peacekeeping Forces in the conflict zone between Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia had received a letter from Sukhitashvili outlining clear-cut instructions for peacekeepers to obtain Georgian visas under the recent introduction of a visa regime for Russian servicemen stationed in the conflict zone.

In February, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said the ministry had begun issuing visas to the 1,200 Russian military personnel and their families.

"There is nothing for the peacekeepers to fear," Kenyaikin said. "We will definitely continue talks on visa issuance with the Georgian foreign ministry as with the official organization representing Georgia's opinion."

Russian troops are stationed in the region as part of the trilateral Collective Peacekeeping Forces, which also include Georgian and Ossetian soldiers. They were deployed in South Ossetia in the early 1990s to ensure the implementation of ceasefire agreements after bloody conflicts, but Georgia's West-leaning authorities have sought their expulsion since coming to power in 2004.

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