TBILISI, Georgia – The FBI is sending a team of experts to look into last week's death of Georgia's premier and a car bombing that killed three policemen days earlier, the U.S. ambassador said Monday.
The death Thursday of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania (search), which officials say appears to have come from carbon-monoxide poisoning, and the car-bombing in Gori two days earlier left many Georgians feeling unsettled and some suggested there may have been a link between the events.
Zhvania was leading efforts to work out a negotiated settlement on South Ossetia (search), a region that has been de-facto independent since the end of a separatist conflict a decade ago. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to restore control of South Ossetia and another separatist region, Abkhazia.
Both regions have ties with Russia and a Georgian parliament member last week said both the bombing in Gori, the Georgian city closest to South Ossetia, and Zhvania's death could have been the work of "certain outside forces," an apparent reference to Russia that the Kremlin sharply dismissed.
Georgian officials say there was no evidence of foul play in Zhvania's death, which they say was due to an improperly ventilated gas space heater at the apartment of a friend, who also died.
They previously said samples of Zhvania's blood would be examined by the FBI (search) to determine the cause of death, but Ambassador Richard Miles told The Associated Press Monday that FBI involvement is being expanded.
An FBI team is to arrive in Georgia in the near future to look both incidents, at Georgian officials' request, he said.
"We don't doubt the technical expertise" of the Georgians, Miles said, adding that he was unaware of evidence indicating Zhvania's death was anything other than an accident or a connection to the Gori bombing.
"We don't find these events linked," he said.
Nonetheless, FBI involvement could reassure Georgians that a thorough investigation is being conducted and would demonstrate U.S. interest in promoting stability in Georgia.
Zhvania was buried Sunday after a funeral in which Saakashvili said Georgia would remained undeterred in its efforts to pull itself out of the poverty and corruption that descended upon it after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"I want to tell Georgia's ill-wishers; 'Have no hopes, have no illusions. Zurab Zhvania is no more, but we are still alive ... Georgia will become a very strong country," Saakashvili said.