At the beginning of February, Vakhtang Shamiladze, chairman of the subcommittee of the Georgian parliament for relations with the peoples of the North Caucasus, urged publicly that the estimated 7,500 Chechen refugees currently living in the Pankisi Gorge in northeastern Georgia be forcibly returned to Chechnya. Not surprisingly, this statement elicited great consternation among the refugees (Kommersant, February 2). On February 4, the president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, paid a visit to the mountain villages of Duisi and Dzhokolo where he spoke with a large number of the refugees, consisting mainly of women, children and old men. Shevardnadze calmed the refugees when he assured them that Georgia had no intention of granting Russia’s request that it be permitted to send its troops into the Pankisi Gorge (Lenta.ru, February 5). The refugees warmly thanked the Georgian president for his “kindness” and presented him with a felt cloak as a gift. Subsequently, during a radio interview, Shevardnadze confided that “he had been unable to hold back his tears upon haring the words of gratitude from the women, children and old men” (Kommersant, February 6).