Georgia accuses Russian military agent in deadly car bombing

Georgia's interior minister on Monday accused a Russian military intelligence agent of plotting a car bombing that killed three policemen and wounded 26 other people.

The Feb. 1 explosion happened outside a police station in Gori, the closest regional center to the tense South Ossetia region, which broke away from Georgia in a 1992 war and enjoys close ties with Moscow.

Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told a news conference that Col. Anatoly Sysosyev from the Russian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Department had planned the car bombing and other attacks. Two suspects have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the explosion, he said.

"I hope that the Russian authorities will hand over all the suspects who planned and took part in this and other terrorist acts," he said, adding that he met with the Russian ambassador to inform him of the allegations.

A Russian Embassy spokesman in Tbilisi denied any Russian involvement.

"We categorically deny the possibility that any Russian officials or bodies could be involved in illegal actions in Georgian territory," Yevgeny Ivanov said in televised comments.

In Moscow, a Defense Ministry spokesman also rejected the accusations that military intelligence had ordered the car bombing. "There is no network of Russian military intelligence agents in Georgia," Nikolai Baranov told The Associated Press.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that "such insinuations won't help the ... development of Russo-Georgian ties."

No one ever claimed responsibility for the blast, which shattered windows in the three-story regional police headquarters and left a crater about 3 meters (10 feet) wide in the street.

The head of the Georgian parliament's national security and defense committee, Givi Targamadze, claimed that up to 120 Russian military intelligence agents were operating in Georgian territory and carrying out acts of sabotage.

"Russia is taking a direct part in an internal conflict in Georgia," he said.

According to Georgian authorities, facilities targeted over the past year have included the electricity and railroad networks and a project to build a U.S.-backed pipeline carrying Caspian oil to Western markets.

Georgia has also been plagued by violent crime, often linked with its large shadow economy, since the Soviet collapse of 1991.

Relations between the pro-Western government in Georgia and Moscow have become increasingly strained as Tbilisi has forged close ties with the United States and sought to bring Russian-backed separatist provinces back into the fold.

After months of wrangling, Russia agreed in May to begin withdrawing troops from its two Soviet-era bases this year and complete the pullout over the course of 2008 a deal that was seen as a key victory for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, AP reports.

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