Georgian President Considers Chechens In Georgia Refugees, Not Bandits

On Monday, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in his traditional interview to the National Radio said that the Georgian authorities consider the Chechens who "found themselves on Georgia's territory not bandits and criminals, but refugees." Mr. Shevardnadze promised to support the Chechens "as long as they stay on Georgia's territory." "We are neighbours and are to assist them, despite the troubles the Chechens caused in Abkhazia," said the Georgian leader. The Georgian president stated that he "controls the situation on the borders very well." Mr. Shevardnadze criticised the statements, in his words, "by some Russian politicians" that "Chechen rebels make their way from Russia to Georgia, and further to Turkey and Afghanistan." According to Mr. Shevardnadze, Georgia and Turkey are just as interested in liquidating terrorism as other countries. In his interview to the Rustavi 2 television network last Wednesday, Mr. Shevardnadze said that he did not consider Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev a bandit. According to Russian and Abkhazian sources, Mr. Gelayev participated in the recent conflict in Abkhazia. Sources close to the Russian Ministry of Defence say that following the recent conflict on Abkhazia's territory, about 100 wounded Chechen and Georgian militants, including Mr. Gelayev, have been receiving treatment either in Georgia, or Turkey. The sources state that about 150 militants subordinate to Mr. Gelayev have returned from Abkhazia to Svanetia, where they are currently living. In September 2000, Russia put Mr. Gelayev on the federal and international wanted list. If detained, he will be charged under two articles of the Criminal Code, for attempted killing of a law enforcement officer, organisation of an illegal armed group, and participation in it.