The Georgian "White Legion" guerrilla group has released the three Russian paratroopers it had been holding hostage since August 16, but kept their weapons. The Abkhaz side in return handed over the bodies of two Legion fighters killed by Abkhaz security forces on August 14. The exchange took place during the night of August 22-23 on the Russian-patrolled military demarcation line. The freed Russians, two captains and a private, belong to the 345th airborne regiment stationed in Abkhazia. Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the commander of Russia’s "peacekeeping" forces there, Maj. Gen. Dolya Babenkov, mediated the deal. Babenkov afterward warned that, in the future, his troops would react more forcefully in cooperation with Abkhaz authorities against "bandit terrorist groups."
The Abkhaz gave up the demand that Tbilisi officially acknowledge the affiliation of the two dead soldiers with the White Legion. Georgia’s first deputy minister of state security, Lt. Gen. Avtandil Ioseliani, who helped arrange the exchange, has in the recent past described the White Legion’s emergence as a justified response to Russian-condoned Abkhaz stonewalling against the return of Georgian expellees. However, all three sides described the deal to release the hostages as reflecting an incipient detente between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. (Prime-News, Russian agencies, August 22-23; see Monitor, August 17 & 21)
Georgian Government "Thoroughly Studies" the Smugglers’ Convoy Stopped at Russian Border.