Certain number of Chechen militants is still harboring in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge, Russian border guard service official said on January 26, Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported.
“We can not rule out danger of possible infiltration of illegal armed groups into Russia from the Georgian territory,” Anatoly Zabrodin, head of the department at the Russian Federal Security Service in charge of border protection, told reporters.
But he also noted that not a single case of an attempt by militants to infiltrate from Georgia into Russia was reported in 2005 and 2006.
This recent allegation by the Russian official about alleged presence of Chechen militants in Pankisi gorge comes after Georgian officials made public that Russian citizen was arrested last year in Tbilisi for smuggling of weapons-grade uranium.
The last time Russia voiced similar accusations towards Georgia on January 23, 2006 when by-then Russian Ambassador to Tbilisi said that although the situation has improved in Georgia’s Pankisi gorge, “some terrorist still remain there.”
According to the latest official reports there are 1 300 Chechen refugees in Pankisi gorge. The number has declined from about 7 000 since 1999.
Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgian mountainous region became a major irritant in Russo-Georgian relations starting from late 2001 and in following years.
In January 2002 the Georgian authorities admitted that Pankisi gorge was a safe haven for militants and criminal gangs, engaged in kidnappings and drug trafficking. As a result the Georgian Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Security launched a joint anti-criminal operation. In 2003 the Georgian authorities announced that the anti-criminal operation was over and the gorge was no longer a safe haven for militants and criminals.