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Georgia discovers radioactive substance at former Russian base

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TBILISI, August 16 (RIA Novosti) - The Georgian military has removed two capsules containing radioactive cesium-137 from a former military base in the south of the country, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.

Russia completed its pullout from a military garrison in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and handed control of its headquarters over to Georgia's Defense Ministry last December. It also formally handed over its military base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia to Tbilisi in June, ahead of the October 2007 deadline.

The cesium capsules were discovered by specialists from the military-scientific center Delta in one of the base's warehouses in Akhalkalaki.

"The sources of radiation were removed from the base and placed in temporary storage until we can build a bunker to hold radioactive waste," Temur Akhalaya, Delta's technical director, said.

"We will take there [to the bunker] all radioactive substances that we discover at sites vacated by the Russian Army," he said.

Under an agreement between the former Soviet allies, Russia must also complete the evacuation of its base in Batumi by the end of 2008.

Russia's continued military presence in the South Caucasus nation has been a major source of controversy in bilateral relations with Georgia.

The country's leadership has repeatedly accused Russian authorities of providing support to separatists in the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Tbilisi is determined to bring back under its control.

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