Man arrested over US envoy's killing

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TBILISI - Georgian authorities said yesterday they had arrested the man who shot US diplomat Fred Woodruff earlier this month, but described the incident as a 'chance killing'.

'The crime has been solved. The criminal has been identified, the investigation is proceeding, and we expect him to go on trial,' First Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Osadze said on Georgian radio.

He added: 'The murder was not intentional, although the court will have the last word. This was a chance killing. No one knew who they were shooting at.' Woodruff, who according to unconfirmed US press reports was working for the Central Intelligence Agency, was killed with a single bullet to the head on 8 August while travelling in a car with Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze's security chief.

Mr Osadze said the suspect, a young man, had apparently fired in an attempt to stop the car in which Woodruff was travelling, but had not intended to kill any of the passengers. The road where the killing took place is a favourite target of criminal gangs, and Georgian officials said from the outset they believed the likeliest explanation was a random bandit attack.

Georgian government troops and Abkhaz rebels are withdrawing from a war zone in the Black Sea province of Abkhazia, in accordance with a peace agreement between them which was brokered by Russia.

Tass quoted Georgian and Abkhaz military spokesmen as saying their forces pulled back heavy artillery and armour from the front line near the provincial capital of Sukhumi on Monday night. It said sights and assembly bolts were handed by Abkhaz commanders to Russian troops stationed in Abkhazia.

Under the peace plan Georgia is to withdraw all forces except some Interior Ministry troops.