Russian soldiers leave Georgian base

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The Independent Online

Russian soldiers loaded the last trainload of military gear on a train today for removal from their Vaziani base near Georgia's capital Tbilisi, as the date for turning the base over to Georgia's military draw nearer.

Russian soldiers loaded the last trainload of military gear on a train today for removal from their Vaziani base near Georgia's capital Tbilisi, as the date for turning the base over to Georgia's military draw nearer.

Russia must hand over the base by July 1 under a 1999 agreement with Georgia, a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus. All heavy weapons including tanks and armored personnel carriers were removed last year.

The last train carrying support and medial equipment was scheduled to pull out of Vaziani at about 11pm local time Tuesday (2000 GMT), said Col Alexander Lutskevich, a spokesman for the Russian command.

The remaining 500 soldiers will be reduced to a skeleton crew of around 100 by mid–May, leaving only personnel needed to secure the base until handover, Russian officials say.

Russia agreed to turn over four military bases in Georgia at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Istanbul in 1999, but the two countries are in dispute about a timeline.

Russia agreed to leave the bases at Vaziani and Gudauta by July, but no deal has been reached for two others, at Akhalkalaki in south and at Batumi. Russia wants to keep the bases for 15 years while Georgia would like to see them vacated within two or three years.

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