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SHEVARDNADZE HAILS PEACEKEEPING EFFORT

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Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze on Monday hailed Russia's peacekeeping effort in the breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Russia is sending some 2,500 troops to Abkhazia to monitor a cease-fire aimed at bringing peace to one of the most volatile flash points of the former Soviet Union.The deployment was approved by President Boris Yeltsin last week, and parliament is expected to endorse it Tuesday.

"This operation will be Georgia's salvation," Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, said in a Georgian national radio interview.

Engineering units and commanders are already in Abkhazia. The ITAR-Tass news agency said checkpoints were being set up Monday near a strategic bridge that marked the front line during much of the war.

The peacekeeping presence enrages Georgian nationalists, who see it as a pretext for expanded Russian military presence.