Foreign Ministry protests detention of Russian peacekeeper in Georgia

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Saturday summoned the Georgian ambassador to demand the immediate release of a Russian peacekeeper detained near Georgia's breakaway province.

Russian Lt. Col. Roman Boiko was detained Friday in the town of Gori in western Georgia near the separatist province of South Ossetia, said Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Guram Donadze. He said that Boiko had been detained as a witness and would be released within 48 hours, but refused to give further details of the case.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday that the Georgian authorities had accused Boiko of "complicity in terrorist activities." It said the charges were ungrounded and represented a "deliberate provocation aimed to discredit Russian peacekeepers, exacerbate tensions in South Ossetia and further worsen Russian-Georgian relations."

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later demanded Boiko's immediate release in a phone conversation with his Georgian counterpart, Gela Bezhuashvili.

The detention came amid spiraling tensions over the Russian peacekeepers' activities in Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Earlier this month, the Georgian parliament said the peacekeepers were undermining security in the provinces and asked the government to seek the troops' removal if they did not stop.

Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the early 1990s, and Georgian authorities repeatedly have accused them of siding with separatists and failing to help the return of ethnic Georgian refugees to their homes. Both breakaway provinces have enjoyed close ties with Moscow, which has granted Russian citizenship to many of their residents.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under central control, AP reported. V.A.

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