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Defense ministers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) reaffirmed
Defense ministers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) reaffirmed in Kazakhstan on Tuesday their plans to develop a joint air defense network and to conduct joint military exercises.

The Council of Defense Ministers from the 11-member organization of former Soviet republics convened on Tuesday in the Kazakh capital, Astana, to discuss future military cooperation.

"Our priorities will remain the development of an integrated air defense network, joint military exercises, and the strengthening of existing venues of military-technical cooperation," Kazakh Defense Minister Danial Akhmetov told reporters after the meeting.

An integrated air defense network was set up by 10 CIS-member countries February 10, 1995, but so far exists only on paper. Nevertheless, CIS partners regularly hold joint exercises, involving respective Air Force and air defense units.

The Council extended the mandate of the current commander of the CIS peacekeeping contingent in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone, Major General Sergei Chaban, despite Georgia's demands to remove him from this post, following a recent clash between Georgian police and Russian peacekeepers.

Russian peacekeepers briefly detained five Georgian police officers late October in the village of Ganmukhuri near the border with Abkhazia, saying the Georgians had threatened to open fire on them. Georgia gave a conflicting version of events, saying the Russians had surrounded the Patriot youth camp near the village and taken the Georgian policemen hostage.

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who arrived briefly at the scene of the incident, declared Chaban a persona non-grata, and demanded that he leave the country.

"Our peacekeepers perform their duties effectively and precisely. We have extended his [Gen. Chaban's] mandate, but we are looking for an alternative candidate," Russia's Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told a news conference in Astana.

Georgia, which suspended its participation in the work of the CIS Council of Defense Ministers in January 2006, called the council's decision "unacceptable," and proposed that Major General Achalov, the current peacekeepers' chief of staff, replace Chaban.

"Chaban cannot continue performing his duties as commander of the CIS peacekeeping contingent," David Bakradze, Georgia's state minister for conflict resolution, said on Tuesday.

"This individual [Chaban] is absolutely unacceptable for us, and, consequently, he does not have the right to continue his activities, in line with our legislation and international laws."

The next meeting of the Council will be held in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, in the first half of 2008.

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