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Georgia to decide on Russian deserter's refugee status by fall

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Georgia's authorities will take the decision on granting refugee status to a Russian deserter within four months, the Georgian ministry responsible said on Thursday.

TBILISI, July 2 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's authorities will take the decision on granting refugee status to a Russian deserter within four months, the Georgian ministry responsible said on Thursday.

"Georgia is a signatory to the Geneva convention under which the issue of granting refugee status to a political asylum seeker must be resolved within four months," a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation said.

Dmitry Artemyev, who is currently being held at the ministry in Tbilisi, said he left his post on July 1 after being "treated badly" at the Russian base in the South-Ossetian controlled village of Perevi near the Georgian town of Sachkhere.

A spokesman for the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation confirmed the report, saying the Russian serviceman had already been granted asylum-seeker status.

Georgian officials are trying to determine what caused the Russian soldier to leave the Russian base before deciding the asylum case.

A Russian North Caucasus military spokesman cited hazing as a possible cause.

The Georgian ministry is to provide Artemyev with lodging later in the day. The ministry said all the expenses for the soldier's accommodation and food will be paid by the UN office in Georgia.

The Russian Prosecutor's Office Investigation Committee said Artemyev apparently left the Russian base with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and 180 rounds of ammunition, adding that a criminal case into desertion and arms theft has been opened.

Russia's Defense Ministry said earlier on Thursday they were holding talks with Georgia on the return of the soldier. The ex-Soviet Caucasus state's authorities have denied the report on talks.

This is the second time since January that a Russian soldier has deserted his unit in South Ossetia, a former Georgian republic, and requested asylum in Tbilisi. Jr. Sgt. Alexander Glukhov was given refugee status and a job in Georgia in late June.

Last month, a Georgian coast guard officer, Lt. Alik Bzhaniya, who crossed into Abkhazia in May, requested political asylum in Russia.

Bzhaniya said he deserted on political reasons as he disagreed with the policy of President Mikheil Saakashvili over relations with Russia. Georgia said he had been dismissed for disciplinary violations.

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war last August which began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in a bid to bring it back under central control. Two weeks after the end of the war, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another former Georgian republic, as independent states.

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