South Asia

Afghanistan land mine kills four Georgian soldiers

Four Georgian soldiers including a colonel have been killed in a landmine blast in Afghanistan, the defence ministry says.

It is thought to be the biggest loss of life for the small ex-Soviet republic since it deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Nato-led mission.

Details of when the soldiers were killed were not given.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is visiting the Georgian capital Tbilisi, paid tribute to them.

Although Georgia is not a member of Nato it currently has 925 soldiers serving with the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, according to Isaf's website.

The country's ambitions to formally join Nato are on hold since Georgia's brief war with Russia in 2008 over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Nato rules preclude states with unresolved border conflicts from joining.

'Greatly valued'

Early reports said the four soldiers had died in Helmand province, where the Georgian contingent is chiefly deployed.

Extending condolences to the soldiers' families, the Georgian defence ministry identified them as a colonel, a sergeant and two corporals.

"Everything possible is being done to transfer the dead bodies [to] Georgia in the possible shortest time," it said on its website.

At a 2008 summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest, Nato leaders agreed that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become members but denied them coveted pre-membership status.

"Nato greatly values its partnership with Georgia, in particular its contribution to Nato's operations in Afghanistan," Mr Rasmussen said at an opening ceremony for a new Nato liaison office in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

"Nato's commitment to Georgia's eventual membership as stated at the Bucharest summit stands firm."

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