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Serbia officially withdraws from NATO-led drills in Georgia

MOSCOW, April 30 (RIA Novosti) - Serbia will not take part in the Cooperative Longbow /Cooperative Lancer 2009 military exercises in Georgia in May, the government said in an statement on Thursday.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on Monday that Serbia decided to withdraw from NATO's exercises in Georgia considering that Moscow regards this exercise as a security threat to Russia.

The Cooperative Longbow/Cooperative Lancer 2009 command-and-staff exercise, which Russia has criticized as unhelpful in the wake of last summer's armed conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, is scheduled for May 6-June 1.

According to NATO, the drills are aimed at improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries, within the framework of Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programs, and will not involve any light or heavy weaponry.

Over 1,300 troops from 19 NATO member or ally states were originally scheduled to participate, but Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia and Moldova have already announced that they would not take part in the exercises.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reiterated on Thursday that NATO's plans to hold exercises in Georgia were "an open provocation."

"Exercises must not be held there where a war has been fought," Medvedev said.

He also warned that the exercises could have negative consequences for those who made the decision to hold them.

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