The Georgian authorities have again rejected Russian military assistance in settling the problem of the Pankisi Gorge, where Chechen gunmen have entrenched themselves. Irakly Menagarishvili, head of the Georgian Foreign Ministry, declared on Tuesday in a Russian television interview that Tbilisi's stand "remains unchanged -- no foreign military force will operate on Georgian territory." The Pankisi Gorge is a mountain area of Georgia situated next to Chechnya. Chechen separatists recently launched a regular armed attack from there, when an about 60-man strong group of gunmen penetrated the territory of Chechnya from Georgia. The Russian frontier guards managed to liquidate 12 bandits and capture 20.
The Georgian minister stressed that the Pankisi problem "will be settled by the Georgian armed forces and Georgian law-enforcement structures alone." He said this in reply to a statement by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov who expressed the opinion in the context of the latest incident that Georgia would not be able to settle the problem with the Chechen bandits in the Pankisi Gorge without Russian assistance. Defence Minister Ivanov said that large gangs of terrorists whom Georgia cannot cope with still remained on Georgian territory.