Published on Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Analyst (http://old.cacianalyst.org)

17 September 2008 News Digest

By Alima Bissenova (09/17/2008 issue of the CACI Analyst)

IMF, Georgia Agree on USD 750 mln Loan
3 S
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on September 3 it had “agreed in principle” with the Georgian authorities on a USD 750 million financial package in the form of an 18-month stand-by arrangement. The proposed arrangement requires the approval of the IMF Executive Board, which is expected to consider Georgia's request in mid-September. The IMF said the arrangement was intended to support “the economic policies of the Georgian authorities and to help mitigate the adverse economic and financial consequences of the recent conflict.” Eka Sharashidze, the Georgian economy minister, said on September 3 that the government had revised economic growth forecasts for 2008. “Because of the war, we expect economic growth to slow to 5-6% from our initial estimate of double-digit growth,” she told journalists. “Georgia’s strong record of reform and sound macroeconomic policies has strengthened the resilience of the economy and bodes well for a solid recovery from this shock,” The IMF, whose mission visited Georgia on August 23-September 3, said in a statement. “The main objectives of the Stand-By Arrangement are to cover part of the expected temporary external financing gap, and to help sustain the confidence of markets and investors by supporting policies that will ensure continued macroeconomic stability and promote the recovery of private sector investment and economic growth.” Kakha Bendukidze, chief of the government’s administration, who once served as state minister in charge of economic reforms, said in an interview with the Georgian weekly Kviris Palitra this week that the Georgian economy hadn't collapsed and it had proved to be very flexible as a result of reforms carried out in recent years. (Civil Georgia)

U.S. Official: Tbilisi Attacked Tskhinvali on August 7, But War Started Earlier
4 September
Although Georgia attacked Tskhinvali on August 7, which was “a mistake,” that was not the actual start of the war, Matthew Bryza, the U.S. deputy assistance secretary of state, has said. “You know, we have our differences with the narrative coming out of Moscow about how this conflict began,” Bryza told journalists in Washington on September 3. “It did not begin on August 7th with the attack on Tskhinvali by Georgia, which we do believe was a mistake; but it began much sooner, thanks to provocations by South Ossetian militias, under the command, by the way, of Russian officers.” “So Georgia did not launch a war. Georgia was drawn into one. It’s a peace-loving country,” he added. Regarding Russian calls for an international arms embargo on Georgia, Bryza said that Georgia was “a sovereign state, a peaceful state, a democracy that has a right to develop its own military, to defend itself, as well as to contribute to Coalition operations as it did so effectively in Iraq.” Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told journalists on September 3 that Russia was not honoring its commitments under the six-point ceasefire agreement, brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Russia has not yet carried out the obligations that President Medvedev has repeatedly given as assurances to the French president,” she said. “It’s high time that Russia met its obligations to the ceasefire to withdraw its forces, to – if it is going to carry out additional security measures, they need to be in accordance with the Sarkozy understandings. And that is not for Russia to be setting up checkpoints along Georgian highways, standing at Georgian ports, which are international commercial entities, and interfering with normal commerce and traffic.” (Civil Georgia)

Son of Late President Arrested for Alleged Espionage
4 September
Police arrested Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, son of late Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, at Tbilisi airport on Wednesday evening, September 3, the Georgian Public Broadcaster reported. Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, who was wanted by Georgia for alleged espionage in favor of Russia and for alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government, was reportedly arrested upon arrival from Moscow via Baku. Charges against Gamsakhurdia were brought in November 2007. On November 7, after riot police broke up anti-government demonstrations, the authorities released a video tape showing Tsotne Gamsakhurdia, who is a brother of Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, the leader of the opposition Freedom Party, meeting with a diplomat from the Russian embassy in Tbilisi. In a separate taped phone conversation, Tsotne Gamsakhurdia tells his brother, Konstantine, how the opposition could lose momentum after gathering 150,000 people outside Parliament on November 2. Tsotne Gamsakhurdia’s lawyer told the Georgian Public Broadcaster that her client strongly denies the charges against him and had refused to plead guilty.

Similar charges were brought against Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, in November, but were later dropped. (Civil Georgia)

Russia will not respond with military action to strengthening of NATOgroup in Black Sea - Russian Foreign Ministry
5 September
Russia will not respond with military action to the strengthening of the NATO group in the Black Sea, but may raise this issue with the UN, said the Russian Foreign Ministry. "We are not talking about any possibility of military actions or anything like that," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told reporters on Friday commenting on the entrance of the U.S. command ship Mount Whitney in the Georgian territorial waters. Nesterenko said the stay of foreign naval vessels in the Black Sea is governed by international agreements, specifically, the 1936 convention. "If the Convention is violated, the issue should probably be considered by the United Nations and possibly other international organizations because we are talking about violations of the provisions of a well-known international agreement," said Nesterenko. If the allowed number of foreign battle ships in the Black Sea is exceeded, it should also raise concerns in the countries that have signed the Convention, he said. "Here, everything should be decided on the basis of international law, We are hoping that, if major violations of the Convention are registered, appropriate measures will be taken," he said. According to Western media reports, the Mount Whitney is a floating headquarters of the 6th Fleet of the U.S. Navy and will coordinate the work of the group of NATO ships in the Black Sea. (Interfax)

Turkish, Armenian heads hold rare meeting
6 September

Turkish President Abdullah Gul [1] met with Armenian President Serge Sarkisian in Armenia Saturday in a bid to thaw relations frozen since World War [2] I. The meeting -- at Sarkisian's office before an unprecedented World Cup qualifying soccer match between the two nations -- marked "a new symbolic start in the countries' relations," Sarkisian said. The two leaders -- who met despite heavy public opposition in each nation -- "shared opinions on how to bring stability and cooperation to the Caucasus region," including a Turkish proposal for a regional forum to encourage political [3] and economic links with five neighbors, Armenia among them, Gul said at a news conference with Sarkisian. Turkey proposed the forum following Russia's incursion in Georgia, which borders Armenia and Turkey. Gul is the first Turkish leader to set foot in Armenia since the former Soviet republic declared independence in 1991. Some observers believe the meeting could lead to the full diplomatic relations in the near future, Euronews reported. They have had no diplomatic relations and their border has been closed since 1993. Turkey won Saturday's World Cup qualifying match 2-0. (UPI)

Russia Reinforces Outposts in Poti
8 September
Georgia said that Russian troops, instead of showing signs of withdrawal, had reinforced their outposts outside the port town of Poti over the weekend. “The Russian occupation force is reinforcing - rather than vacating - its checkpoints near the strategic commercial port of Poti," the Georgian government said in a statement released on September 7. It said that one checkpoint was reinforced with five armored personnel carriers (APC) and about 50 troops, while another was reinforced with one APC and about 10 troops. A Poti-based journalist working for the RFE/RL Georgian Service also reported that the checkpoints had been reinforced. She wrote on her blog [4] that the outposts had been reinforced by six armored vehicles. The Georgian government also said that two Russian aircraft entered Georgian airspace on September 7, flying for about 45 minutes over Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway South Ossetia, and Shatili, a region in northern Georgia close to the Russian border. The Georgian government said the Russian aircraft were “presumably on a reconnaissance mission.” (Civil Georgia)

Russia Against Independent EU Monitoring Mission
8 September
Russia said on September 8 that although it was not against the presence of international monitors in Georgia, it thought “an autonomous EU monitoring mission” would be inappropriate. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said after an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Avignon on September 6 that an agreement had been reached to send “an autonomous ESDP [European Security and Defence Policy] mission [to Georgia] as part of the OSCE presence in the first instance.” “We believe that [the EU’s autonomous mission] will lead to unnecessary fragmentation of international monitoring efforts, which currently are already underway by the UN [in the Abkhaz conflict zone] and the OSCE [in areas adjacent to South Ossetia],” Andrey Nesterenko, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on September 8. He, however, also said that Russia supported a further increase in the number of unarmed OSCE military monitors on the ground. Last week, Russia has submitted [5] a draft resolution to the OSCE Permanent Council calling for the introduction of a civilian police operation in Georgia under the organization’s aegis. According to the draft resolution, Russia is proposing the deployment of civilian police in the so-called “security zone” adjacent to South Ossetia, currently occupied by Russian forces, between the South Ossetian administrative border and the key east-west highway. Russia also said that the EU could provide human, material and financial resources for the deployment of such an OSCE civil police operation. Russia, like any other OSCE member-state, has veto-wielding power in the OSCE. (Civil Georgia)

Investigators complete probe against several high-profile figures in Armenia under March 1 unrest case
5 September
The Armenian Special Investigations Service have completed a preliminary investigation against a number of high-profile figures charged with involvement in the public unrest in Yerevan in March, the Prosecutor General's Office told Interfax on Friday. The investigation established that, following opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian's defeat in the presidential elections on February 19, parliamentarians Myasnik Malkhasian, Sasun Mikaelian, Asop Akopian, and Khachatur Sukiasian, former Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzumanian, and also Shant Arutyunian, Grigor Voskerchian, and Suren Sirunian "organized and committed actions aimed at destabilizing the internal political situation, overthrowing the constitutional system, seizing power," the Prosecutor General's Office said. A court earlier accused Nikolai Pashinian, the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Aikakan Zhamanak, and newspaper employees Amlet Ovannisian and Virab Manukian of the same actions. Akopian, Arzumanian, Arutyunian, Voskerchian, and Sirunian have been indicted for the organization of mass unrest and usurpation of power, and Malkhasian and Mikaelian, in addition to these crimes, have also been charged with illegal possession and carrying of weapons. Pashinian, Sukiasian, Ovannisian, and Manukian are on the wanted list, the Prosecutor General's Office said. As of September 5, 88 cases related to the said events against 103 people have been passed to courts. The courts have already handed down sentences on 74 cases against 86 people. Five people have been acquitted, the prosecution of one person has been dropped, five have been fined, 39 sentenced to prison terms varying from five months to six years, and 36 others received suspended sentences, it said. Meanwhile, the Armenian National Congress (ANC) led by Ter-Petrosian circulated a statement to announce that the opposition planned a rally in Yerevan on September 12. "September 12 will mark the beginning of a decisive phase of struggle against the existing regime," the Armenian National Congress said. According to the ANC, what they described as 76 political prisoners were still held in jails, 13 of them needed urgent medical aid, and the lives of some of these prisoners were in danger. (Interfax)

Saakashvili: Georgia at the Center of World Politics
7 September
President Saakashvili said on September 7 he was now convinced more than ever that Georgia’s territorial integrity would be restored through “unimaginable” international support, which Georgia had gained after the war with Russia. In a televised meeting with farmers in the town of Telavi in the eastern region of Kakheti, Saakashvili said if before the war the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts were “forgotten” and “frozen,” now they were a matter for the entire world. “Despite Russia’s expectations, Georgia has not been left alone [internationally],” he said. “The Russians prepared everything in advance: propaganda; clichés; who started [the war]; how to provide media coverage; [Russia] bribed politicians and journalists throughout the world; they have lots of money; but it was all thwarted.” “These conflicts were forgotten and frozen; but today the entire world says that Georgia’s territorial integrity should be protected; today the entire world states that this is their issue and not just a matter between Georgia and Russia.” “Georgia has become the center of world politics,” he added. “Various politicians’ popularity and electability is now based on their [views] on Georgia and this is so in huge and very important countries,” Saakashvili said without specifying the countries, but added “these are countries of decisive importance.” He also said that “the return of our territories” and “the peaceful reunification of Georgia” were major goals. “I am convinced now as never before that Georgia’s territorial integrity will be restored. It will not be an easy process. This is now a matter between furious Russia and the rest of the world,” Saakashvili said. Two or three months ago some European ambassadors, he said, had been saying: ‘we have no time for Georgia, we have firstly to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan.’ “But just take a look at what is happening now: both [presidential] candidates in the Unite States say that they have two major issues: terrorism and Georgia. It [the situation in Georgia] is a major issue of internal politics in Europe, including in Britain, France; and it goes without saying that this is the case in our traditional allies in eastern Europe. And unfortunately this issue has triggered a governmental crisis in Ukraine.” Saakashvili also said that apart from the USD 1 billion aid package from the United States, “as far as I know we will also receive several billion from Europe and various international institutions.” “That is more than enough to keep our currency strong,” Saakashvili said, adding that the financial collapse seen in Georgia in the early 1990s would not be repeated due to huge international aid. He also said that if spend appropriately, the international aid would help the country to develop its economy and infrastructure, which eventually would turn Georgia into “a developed European country, which will be a NATO member.” “Meantime, I am absolutely sure, that Russian imperialism’s retreat will continue,” he said. “They thought the revival of [Russian] imperialism would start from Georgia.” (Civil Georgia)

Azerbaijan security officers arrest 18 suspects in Baku mosque explosion
8 September
Azeri national security officers have arrested 18 people on suspicion of staging the explosion at the Abu Bakr Mosque on August 17, the National Security Ministry (NSM) Public Relations Center said in a statement. The arrested individuals were found to be in possession of great quantities of firearms, ammunition, explosive substances, communications facilities, and various military devices, the ministry said. A set of comprehensive measures led to the information about the whereabouts of the group of Telman Abdullayev's group in Azerbaijan's Gusarsky district, the ministry's statement said. The anti-terrorist operation conducted by the NSM's "Oryol" special squadron on September 6 revealed that the suspects were hiding at one of the houses. Abdullayev and his accomplices refused to surrender and threw a grenade toward security officers. However, Abdullayev and one of his accomplices were killed in the battle, and another one was seriously wounded and died on the way to hospital, the NSM said. The explosion at the Abu Bakr mosque occurred on the evening of August 17, when somebody threw a grenade into the mosque through a window. The explosion left three people dead and about ten injured. (Interfax)

Saakashvili: We Can Prove Georgia did not Start War
9 September
President Saakashvili claimed that Tbilisi possessed “solid” evidence proving that Georgia did not start the war, as well as rebutting allegations that Georgia went into the Russian trap. Speaking at a news conference after talks with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, after midnight on September 9, Saakashvili said he had handed over to President Sarkozy; President of European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Tbilisi “very strong proof.” “I know people have been asking questions: who started the hostilities?” he said. “Everybody knows now that [charges of] genocide were fake; there was no genocide [a reference to Russian allegations that Georgia committed genocide of the South Ossetian population].” “I gave President Sarkozy, President Barroso and Javier Solana, I think, very strong proof that the Georgians had responded to a large-scale Russian invasion before the hostilities had begun,” he added, without going into the details of the evidence. “We can prove this; it is very solid proof and you will be able to assess it for yourselves,” he continued. “From now on, I don't think there will be any more speculation on whether Georgia started it or whether Georgia fell into a [Russian] trap; we did not fall into a trap; we did not start it. They [Russia] started it; they invaded us in a classic 19th and 20th century manner, and unfortunately it has happened again in the 21st century.” He also said that Georgia was willing to agree to an international investigation of what led to the war. “Any international commission to investigate it would be welcomed,” he told journalist in separate remarks after the news conference with Sarkozy. “We are in favor of a serious international investigation… I’ve heard [German] Foreign Minister [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier speaking about it; I was the first one to say that; we want maximum transparency; we are for transparency.” (Civil Georgia)

Moscow Wants Sokhumi, Tskhinvali to Participate in Geneva Talks
9 September
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would insist on the involvement of South Ossetian and Abkhaz representatives in international talks scheduled for October 15 in Geneva.“Participants of these discussions are not listed in the signed document [referring to the September 8 agreement between President Medvedev and President Sarkozy],” RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying at a news conference on September 9. “But we have made it clear that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should take an equal seat at the discussion table.” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said after the talks with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, that the agreement envisaged international discussions. (Civil Georgia)

Georgia Updates Casualty Figures
9 September
The officially registered number of Georgian citizens killed in the conflict is 295, as of September 8, according to a report [6] released by the Georgian government. One hundred and eighty six of them are military and 109 – civilians. In a previous interim report [7], the number of civilian dead stood at 69. According to the report, 14 Georgian soldiers are still missing. Three journalists were also killed in the conflict – two locals [8] and one Dutch cameraman. (Civil Georgia)

Work on Iran-Armenia pipeline concludes
12 September
Construction on a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia to transport 81 billion cubic feet of gas has been concluded, Armenian energy officials said Friday. Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan [9] said the pipeline is important to secure energy supplies for his country, noting testing would commence in the coming days, Trend Capital News said. "The opening of the Iranian-Armenian pipeline will guarantee the energy safety of Armenia," he said. "Armenia will receive from 2.3 billion to 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas from Tehran through this pipeline a year." Movsisyan added the Armenian government was entering into trilateral talks with Iran and Russia on the construction of an oil refinery and examinations of a new oil pipeline. The planned $2.5 billion Armenian refinery would have the capacity to produce around 50 million barrels of oil per year. (UPI)

Rare clash reported in authoritarian Turkmenistan
13 September
Heavy gun battles between a radical Islamist group and security forces erupted overnight in the capital of Turkmenistan — a rare instance of violence in the authoritarian Central Asian nation, media reports and a Western diplomat said Saturday. The diplomat said there were unconfirmed reports that at least 20 members of the security forces were killed and some of the suspected fighters had been rounded up. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.Witnesses in the capital Ashgabat told The Associated Press there was heavy, prolonged gunfire and some casualties in the fighting, though they did not know how many. They said they saw armored personnel carriers patrolling the area and streets there were closed for much of the day. Radio Free EuropeRadio Liberty and a foreign-based opposition Web site named Gundogar said the clash was between a radical Islamist group and security forces. Information is strictly controlled in Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic with large gas and oil reserves. State media did not report on the incident. (AP)

Medvedev Scornfully Assaults Saakashvili
13 September
Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, who has already called President Saakashvili “a political corpse” [10] went further and assaulted the Georgian leader on September 12 by describing him as a person “burdened with a mass of pathologies,” who “takes narcotic drugs.” Speaking at a meeting with foreign academics and journalists in Moscow on September 12, Medvedev said while answering a question on Georgia’s NATO integration: “As far as Georgia’s NATO membership is concerned, I have already told you [11] about it, it will clearly be one of the serious destabilizing factors for NATO itself and for Caucasus. It would have been only a half-trouble if there were balanced, wise politicians in the Georgian leadership – even if they were oriented towards overseas [referring to western orientation]; but it is another matter when there is a person as a head of state, with whom we will not only have any business, but also who is totally unpredictable, a person burdened with a mass of pathologies, who, unfortunately, is in an unbalanced psychological condition, [a person] who – am sorry but – takes narcotic drugs, which is a well-known fact for a western journalists, who have interviewed him recently. Two hours of interview under the condition of a strong narcotic influence for a head of state – it is too much, it is overdose. If our colleagues from NATO want to have this kind of leader, then go ahead.” Transcript of President Medvedev’s remarks in Russian at the meeting was posted on the Kremlin website [12]. (Civil Georgia)

Russia withdraws peacekeepers from Poti-Senaki line
13 September
Russian peacekeepers have withdrawn their posts on the Poti-Senaki line and left Georgia's territory in accordance with the September 8 agreements reached by Russian and French Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. It is done two days earlier than the date set by the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreements, the ministry noted. Russia expects the same strict and conscientious attitude from all concerned, first of all the entire Georgian leadership and the European Union, to the agreements. First of all, it is the EU guarantees that the Georgian side will not use force against Abkhazia and South Ossetia, return of all the Georgian troops by October 1 to their permanent deployment places and timely deployment of international observers in Georgian regions adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including at least 200 EU observers. It will allow withdrawing the Russian peacekeeping forces from the regions in ten days after it, the ministry noted. Under the singed agreements between the Russian and French presidents, Russian peacekeeping posts on the Poti-Senaki line must be withdrawn in seven days after September 8 in the light of the EU guarantees of non-use of force against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained last week that all the rest positions of Russian peacekeepers did not change in the security zone, since the European Union was to take its step -- the EU assumed the obligation to deploy at least 200 observers there by October 1. Only after it, Russia will begin to withdraw the peacekeepers, the minister explained. (Itar-Tass)

Drug production in Afghanistan grows two-fold since NATO operation
15 September
Since the beginning of the NATO operation in Afghanistan, drug production in the country has increased two and a half times, director of the Russian Drug Control Federal Service (DCFS) Viktor Ivanov said after a meeting of the CSTO Coordination Council of leaders of competent bodies on opposing illegal trafficking of drugs. “Since the beginning of the NATO operation in Afghanistan, drug production (in Afghanistan) has increased two and a half times. We feel it,” he said. “The military-political situation in Afghanistan remains complex. This is not only my opinion, this is an estimate of the world community and NATO too. Disengaging myself from the problem of combating terrorism, I want to say that drug production in this country is growing with every passing day,” the DCFS director ascertained. (Itar-Tass)

Georgia worried over winter energy supply
15 September
Despite assurances of adequate energy supplies to Georgia from Azerbaijan, analysts say concerns over Russian activity in the sector loom as winter approaches. "Georgia will not have any problems in electricity and gas supply," said Georgian Energy Minister Aleko Khetaguri, adding any impact on energy supplies from the recent conflict with Russia was being addressed. Georgia serves as a major transportation hub for energy resources through Europe. Though it had relied heavily on Russian gas imports, the Energy Ministry said Azerbaijan has pledged to meet all of Georgia's energy demands this winter, The Georgia Times reported Monday. A move by Russian energy giant Gazprom to buy gas from Azerbaijan has some analysts concerned, however. "The Georgian government's attempt to receive gas solely from Azerbaijan conflicts with its aim to diversify its gas supply source," Transparency International Georgia warned in March. (UPI)

Azerbaijan to double peacekeepers in Afghanistan
16 September
Azerbaijan's parliament is to adopt a law that would double its peacekeeping contingent in Afghanistan, a senior parliamentarian said Tuesday. "A draft law on doubling the number of Azeri peacekeepers deployed in Afghanistan will be submitted for consideration during the fall session," first deputy speaker Ziyafet Askerov said. A total of 45 Azerbaijani peacekeepers are currently serving in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force, a NATO-led security and development mission in the country. The former Soviet republic has also deployed 150 peacekeepers to Iraq since May 2003, and has been part of the NATO Partnership for Peace program since 1994. (RIA Novosti)

Azerbaijan President: "Good Basis" For Solving Armenia Conflict
16 September
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday said there was "a good basis" for resolving a long-running conflict with Armenia after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev near Moscow. "It seems to us that there is now a good basis for a resolution of the conflict, which would fit with the interests of all states and would be based on the principles of international law," Aliyev said. "If the conflict is resolved in the near future, I am sure that there will be new perspectives for regional cooperation," Aliyev said. Aliyev also expressed his concern over the situation in the region following Russia's war in Georgia, saying conflict "should be resolved in a peaceful way, through dialogue, by finding common points and based on mutual respect." Aliyev visited Medvedev at his residence near Moscow for talks on last month's conflict in Georgia and on Azerbaijan's conflict with its neighbor Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia and Azerbaijan remain in a tense stand-off over the enclave, which ethnic Armenian forces seized in the early 1990s in a war that killed nearly 30, 000 people and forced another 1 million on both sides to flee their homes. A ceasefire was signed between the two former Soviet republics in 1994 but the dispute remains unresolved after more than a decade of negotiations, and shootings between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the region are common. (AFP)

Bomb kills 4 U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan
17 September
A roadside bomb killed four soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition force and an Afghan national in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the U.S. military said. The military did not identify the victims, but most foreign troops serving under coalition force in eastern Afghanistan are Americans.The toll is the bloodiest in a single attack in recent weeks in Afghanistan, where the al Qaeda-backed Taliban have stepped up their campaign of suicide attacks and roadside bomb blasts against the government and foreign troops backing it. At least 194 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in 2008, the deadliest year for the foreign forces since U.S.-led troops removed the Taliban from power in 2001. The resurgent Taliban have made a come back since 2005 and have gradually extended the depth of their attacks despite the increase in number of foreign troops, now standing at more than 71,000. Separately, the guerrillas freed a member of the upper house of the parliament who they had kidnapped more than two months ago from a province to the south of Kabul, the parliament said on Wednesday. It said the release was secured following the mediation of the area's tribal chiefs, but the Taliban said the government had freed three of their jailed militants in a deal. (Reuters)

Commander wants more troops in Afghanistan
17 September
The commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan says more than 10,000 extra troops are needed besides the additions announced by U.S. President George Bush [13]. Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Gen. David McKiernan [14] said with violence up 30 percent in Afghanistan from last year, he needs more combat power and support elements, which could mean an additional 15,000 troops, the Voice of America reported. His call for more troops would be over and above the several thousand announced by Bush last week, the report said. McKiernan's comments came as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates [15] arrived in Kabul. The general also issued new orders to avoid civilian casualties. Currently, there are about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. McKiernan was quoted as saying senior Pentagon officials have confirmed the need, adding it was not a question of whether but when he will get the troops, which would depend on troop cuts in Iraq [16]. McKiernan also noted there can be no "right outcome in Afghanistan without some solution to the militant sanctuaries in the tribal areas in Pakistan." He said while Pakistan has taken more action recently, it was too soon to make an assessment of the outcome. (UPI)

Abkhazia: Russian bases crucial for South Caucasus peace
17 September
Abkhazia's leader promised to "do everything possible to have Russian armed forces put up powerful bases on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia" and said this was "not only in the interests of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but in the interests of peace in the entire South Caucasus." "Very soon bases will start being set up, a treaty [to that effect] will be signed very soon. We have come to an agreement on the quantitative aspect as well, the quantity will be sufficient to stop anyone wanting to do or thinking of doing anything similar to the events in Tskhinvali on August 8," Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh told a news conference in Moscow. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said the planned bases would shield the two republics from possible Georgian attacks. "There will be as many [bases] as needed, and the conditions that will be provided there will be as favorable as possible so that the soldiers and officers who are on our territory feel at home," he said. (Interfax)

Abkhazia, S Ossetia to apply for CIS, CSTO membership
17 September
Abkhazia and South Ossetia plan to apply for membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh said. “Prospects are very good. We will apply for membership in these organizations and hope or a positive decision,” Bagapsh told a press conference at Itar-Tass on Wednesday. “I think our membership in the CIS and the CSTO, and especially in the Russia-Belarus Union State, is what we all need,” he said. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said, “This is another stage in the development of our states. We will strengthen these relations, but this will take time.” Asked whether South Ossetia would join Russia, Kokoity said South Ossetia planned to join Russia by way of integration. “South Ossetia intends to join Russia. South and North Ossetia are a part of Russia. We have never made a secret out of this,” Kokoity said. At the same time, he noted, “We will not give up our independence.” “What happened today vividly demonstrates Russia’s determination to strengthen relations. Russia has no intention to annex other territories as others do,” he said. “We will build such relations with Moscow that will facilitate the integration of our peoples through different forms of integration, such as the removal of the border, and other forms,” Kokoity said. “We are very grateful to the Russian people,” the South Ossetian president said. (Itar-Tass)

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