Asia Crisis

Russia boosts forces in Abkhazia to 9,000-Ifax

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MOSCOW, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Russia has boosted its forces in Abkhazia, a second rebel region of Georgia, and now has more than 9,000 paratroopers and 350 armour there, Interfax news agency quoted an aide to the commander of Russian peacekeepers as saying on Monday.

"The strengthening of the peacekeeping force is aimed at ruling out a repetition of the situation Russian peacekeepers faced in Tskhinvali," Alexander Novitsky was quoted as saying.

Tskhinvali is the capital of South Ossetia, another breakaway region of Georgia where Russian forces are now in control after a failed military operation by Georgia to re-assert government control.

"Our troops have to defend ... civilians and avert a humanitarian catastrophe," he said.

A 1994 ceasefire agreement following a war in which Georgian troops were forced out of Abkhazia allows Russia to have 3,000 peacekeepers there, although it has deployed only about 2,500 until recently.

Photographers and cameramen in Abkhazia say that for the past two nights Russian cargo planes have been flying troops and armour into the Black Sea territory which, like South Ossetia, has often said it wants to be part of Russia. (Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)