October 8, 2008 / 3:29 PM / 11 years ago

Georgia says handed over 'drunk' Russian soldiers

(Adds Russian denial)

KARALETI, Georgia, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Georgian police said two Russian soldiers almost missed their unit’s pullback from Georgia on Wednesday after getting drunk, but Russia’s military denied the incident happened.

The uniformed soldiers were handed over by Georgian police to the Russian military at the Karaleti checkpoint, just hours before a Russian troop withdrawal. A Reuters correspondent witnessed Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict zone, cursing the pair as they were marched past.

A Georgian police officer told Reuters the soldiers were detained late on Tuesday while driving a car in the Kareli region of Georgia, west of Karaleti.

He said they had been drinking heavily, and asked the arresting officers: "Where are we?"

A Georgian interior ministry spokesman said Russia later on Wednesday completed a pullback from "security zones" it had occupied on Georgian soil adjacent to Georgia’s two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The buffer zones were established after an August war in which Russia mounted a strong counter-offensive to repel a Georgian bid to retake pro-Russian South Ossetia.

Vladimir Ivanov, deputy spokesman for Russian peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia, said the Georgian version of events was designed to cast a shadow over the Russian pullback.

"This is a complete and heinous act of misinformation arranged by the Georgian side right before the pullback of Russian checkpoints, to blacken the reputation of the Russian peacekeepers," he told reporters. (Reporting by Margarita Antidze and Dmitry Solovyov; writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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