Georgia says Strela launchers smuggled to Russia from Abkhazia

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TBILISI, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia said Thursday short-range guided missile systems seized by Russian security services late last year in Russia's south were smuggled from the Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Ivan Sydorchuk, a deputy general prosecutor of Russia, said March 29 a criminal case into the foiled attempt by a group of five persons to smuggle Strela-2M portable surface-to-air missile systems from Georgia was being prepared for court hearings.

"The smugglers were carrying four Strela-2M surface-to-air missile systems into Russia from Abkhazia for the purpose of selling them," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

According to the statement, this incident was further proof that illegal arms sales in Abkhazia had reached dangerous proportions.

Levan Nikoleishvili, a Georgian deputy defense minister, on Thursday ruled out the possibility that the surface-to-air guided missile systems could have been smuggled from Georgia.

"The delivery of such armaments from Georgian territory is highly unlikely. These weapons are strictly controlled and transportation by this method is ruled out," he said.

Georgia's self-proclaimed republic Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, sparking a bloody conflict in the region.

Russia mediated ceasefire agreements between the sides, and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the conflict zone ever since.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who swept into power on the back of the "rose" revolution in 2003, has pledged to bring Abkhazia back under Tbilisi's control.

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