3 Russian military officers freed from Georgian custody

Georgian authorities have freed three Russian military officers from custody and given them 24 hours to leave Georgia, the defense minister said Friday. Police detained the three Wednesday for entering Georgia without visas, further ratcheting up already high tension with Moscow .

"They have already been freed," Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili told reporters in the capital, Tbilisi . "They should leave Georgian territory within 24 hours." Russia 's Defense Ministry said that the officers were investigating a serious incident around a week ago when Georgian police impounded a Russian peacekeepers' truck involved in a traffic accident near South Ossetia , sparking fist fights.

Russian peacekeepers are stationed in the area between Georgia and its breakaway province of South Ossetia . The three officers were handed over to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the so-called conflict zone around South Ossetia , said Nana Instskirveli, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman. She told The Associated Press that they were already en route to Vladikavkaz in Russia .

"We do not intend to tolerate violations of Georgian law," Okruashvili said, insisting that Russian peacekeepers needed to have Georgian visas. "At the same time, we are doing everything so that the situation will not get out of control," he said.

He denied Russian accusations that Georgia had beefed up its military presence in the conflict zone, but said that Tbilisi had the right to increase its troop numbers. The trilateral peacekeeping force is comprised of 500 troops each from Russia , Russia 's North Ossetia region and Georgia , but Georgia cut back its presence last year to 250.

Okruashvili warned Moscow against attempting to advocate independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, saying " Russia should not forget about Chechnya ."

Russian troops have been fighting Chechen rebels for the better part of the last decade, trying to put down a simmering insurrection that began as a fight for independence but has meshed increasingly with radical Islamic ideals, reports the AP.


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