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Peacekeepers detained by Georgian police released

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Two peacekeepers detained by Georgian police in the conflict zone with South Ossetia have been released, the peacekeeping commander said Monday.
TBILISI, December 4 (RIA Novosti) - Two peacekeepers detained by Georgian police in the conflict zone with South Ossetia have been released, the peacekeeping commander said Monday.

Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force of former Soviet republics in the area, said the peacekeepers were from the South Ossetian battalion rather than the Russian one, as Georgian police said earlier.

"The detained Ossetians have been released," he said. "They were not in the Russian battalion but served in the South Ossetian peacekeeping battalion."

Georgian police said earlier Monday they detained two Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone for smuggling, but commanders of the peacekeeping forces denied the report.

Russia has led peacekeeping contingents in Georgia's breakaway regions since the bloody ethnic conflicts in the 1990s. But Tbilisi, which wants to regain control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has consistently demanded their withdrawal, accusing Russia of backing separatism.

Russia insists its peacekeeping presence in the regions has helped end bloodshed, while its withdrawal would trigger a new spiral of violence in the region, given Georgia's "bellicose" resolve to regain the regions and strong anti-Georgian sentiments there.

The issue was at the center of a bitter diplomatic dispute between Moscow and Tbilisi earlier this fall, and Georgia is still under strict economic restrictions imposed by Russia.

On October 13, the UN Security Council approved a Russian-sponsored draft resolution on Georgia, extending the Russian peacekeeping mission in the region until April 15, 2007.

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