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    GEORGIA'S AUTHORITIES DOUBT POSSIBILITY OF BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS DEVELOPMENT IN RANKISI

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    TBILISI, March 1 (RIA Novosti) - Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili doubts the sensational assertions of his French analog that terrorists in the Pankisi gorge have been working on chemical and biological weapons.

    Commenting on Dominique de Villepin's words on Tuesday at the international conference on combating bioterrorism, Mr. Merabishvili said that the problem of Pankisi has been fully resolved and no threat of terrorism now emanates from the gorge, which is adjacent to the Russian border.

    "I know for sure what is meant. It is the situation shaping under the former leadership of Georgia. Then, in 2001 terrorist groups were ousted from Afghanistan and some of them settled in the Pankisi gorge", the news agency Novosti-Georgia cites Mr. Merabishvili as saying.

    In 2002 to 2003 the Georgian authorities with the help of the United States held an antiterrorist operation in Pankisi and "the problem became actually non-existent and has not been raised afterwards".

    Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Gomiashvili told the briefing that the information on the production of chemical and biological weapons by Al-Qaeda in Georgia's Pankisi gorge was "snatched from the general context".

    "At the Lion international conference there was no talk of the present set-up in the Pankisi gorge", Mr. Gomiashvili said.

    French ambassador to Georgia Philipp Lefair, attending the news meeting, also confirmed that the present situation in Pankisi was not under study at the conference.

    "The statement of the French interior minister concerned the situation in the gorge which existed several years ago. Unfortunately, the information spread by some the Russian mass media outlets was distorted and no true to fact", Me. Lefair said.

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