Russia says it will pull "rail worker" troops from Abkhazia

Russia is to pull some 400 recently-deployed troops from Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was quoted by Russian media as saying Saturday.

The troops - which Moscow said had been deployed to carry out rail repairs, but had been seen by Georgia as a provocation - would be withdrawn in the next two months, he said.

Tbilisi had accused Moscow of sending in the troops on the excuse of repairing rail lines, but in reality as part of a gradual annexation attempt. Russia stressed they were unarmed engineers.

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev had Friday met with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili, remarking afterwards: "I think that we are, on our own, the most capable of resolving the questions, overcoming the difficulties that exist."

For his part, Saakashvili said: "Russia and Georgia are countries that are very close to each other historically, culturally ... the current situation is artificial and does not work to anybody's advantage."

Long simmering tension erupted last month when Russia announced it was strengthened diplomatic ties and its peacekeeping presence in Abkhazia in what analysts see as a response to Georgia's aspirations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Last month, Russia claimed it had intercepted a Georgian spy helping rebel cells in the Caucasus, while Georgia accused Russia of shooting down one of its reconnaissance flights.

The escalating accusations were addressed at a session of the UN Security Council last week following a UN report corroborating Tbilisi's claims that Moscow was behind the shooting of its drone.

After the Security Council talks, the United States expressed dismay over Russia's announcement of troop increases in Abkhazia without the consent of the Georgian government.

Russia has had some 2,500 peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia since a ceasefire ended civil war in 1994, and most residents of the autonomous region have held Russian passports since 2000, dpa reported.

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