Putin Sends Letter to World Leaders

Eric Engleman
Associated Press

Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has sent a letter to world leaders accusing Georgia of harboring Chechen rebels and terrorists and outlining his case for military action in Russia's neighbor.

The letter, made public on Thursday hours before a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, accused Georgia of violating U.N. anti-terrorism resolutions and said Russia will act if Georgia does not quell the threat.

"If the Georgian leadership doesn't take concrete actions to destroy the terrorists, and bandit incursions continue from its territory, Russia will take adequate measures to counteract the terrorist threat, in strict accordance with international law," Putin said in the letter, which was released in Moscow by the presidential press service.

In the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, President Eduard Shevardnadze held a four-hour meeting of his security council after the Russian letter became public.

Defense Minister David Tevzadze emerged to say the government would take both diplomatic and internal policy steps to defuse the crisis, but refused to give details.

Parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, who took part in the meeting, told reporters that government forces need to take "more resolute" action to disarm and arrest militants on Georgian territory.

The council's deputy secretary, Rusudan Beridze, said that Georgia was trying to find a third country willing to take the militants, but so far had found none.

Putin's letter was addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.N. Security Council members and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Putin made his case against the fellow ex-Soviet republic as world leaders gathered for a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, a day after the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. President Bush was due to address the assembly to present his case against Iraq, which he has called part of an "axis of evil."

Putin was vacationing in the Black Sea port of Sochi on Thursday and was not going to the General Assembly. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was to represent him at the meeting.

In his letter, Putin said the "successful anti-terrorist operation" in Chechnya had driven remaining fighters into Georgian territory, where they operate freely and continue to receive military and financial assistance.

Putin said Georgia had rejected numerous Russian offers to conduct joint operations to root out rebels. He criticized a recent Georgian security sweep through the Pankisi Gorge, which borders Chechnya, saying it had failed to achieve "concrete results" in eliminating the terrorist threat.

Putin said any Russian action in Georgia would not be "directed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country" or "changing the political regime."

Russia fought unsuccessfully against Chechen rebels from 1994-96. Troops returned to the republic in 1999, after rebels launched raids into neighboring Dagestan and deadly apartment bombings blamed on the guerrillas killed 300 people in Russia.

Russian troops now control much of Chechnya but are subject to constant rebel hit-and-run attacks and mine explosions. Human rights groups have criticized the Russian military's security sweeps through Chechen villages, saying they lead to looting, illegal detentions and killings.