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Georgia: New Video Ups Ante In Abkhaz Dispute

By Michael Scollon --> Abkhaz soldiers taking part in tank exercises this month (AFP) In the latest in the ongoing feud between Moscow and Tbilisi, the Georgian Interior Ministry has released video footage it claims is evidence that Russia is engaged in more than mere peacekeeping in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Instead, the Interior Ministry believes, Moscow is deploying heavy weaponry in Abkhazia in violation of the 1994 cease-fire agreement under which Russian peacekeepers are stationed in the region.

The nearly nine-minute video is date-stamped May 4, 2008 -- just days after Russia took the controversial step of deploying additional peacekeeping troops to Abkhazia.

The silent footage, believed to be taken by an unmanned spy plane, appears to show images of trucks parked in rows, barracks, and a bridge spanning a river.

The flatness of the terrain shown in the video would appear to indicate that it is not of the Kodori Gorge, where the Georgians claim that the additional Russian peacekeepers deployed on April 30 were sent.

1994 Cease-Fire

At the heart of the matter is the interpretation of the 1994 cease-fire agreement, which states that parties to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict shall "observe the cease-fire on land, at sea, and in the air," and there shall be "no heavy military equipment" within the peacekeeping zone.

Both Russia and Georgia have engaged in mutual accusations of violating the agreement.

After Tbilisi objected to the shooting down of one of its unmanned reconnaissance drones over Abkhazia on April 20, the opposing sides engaged in a back-and-forth over responsibility for the downing.

Georgia blamed the downing of the drone on Russia, and provided video footage purportedly showing a Russian MiG fighter firing the rocket that brought the craft down.

Russia denied that the jet responsible was from its military, and accused Georgia of violating the cease-fire by bringing the drones into the region.

Since then, Abkhaz forces have claimed to have brought the total of downed drones to seven, while Tbilisi claims only one has been shot down.

Those events were followed by Moscow's decision to deploy more peacekeeping troops to Abkhazia, which it claimed was within the limits set by the 1994 cease-fire agreement.

Georgia decried the deployment, saying that such changes required consensus of the parties to the agreement, and demanded that the clause in the original agreement stipulating that a "combined peacekeeping force consisting of CIS servicemen be enacted."

On May 17, Russia claimed it had captured a Georgian spy allegedly operating in Russia's North Caucasus region, a claim Georgia rejected as "absurd" and a "provocation."

On the evening of May 18, Georgian police turned back a column of Russian armored personnel carriers and trucks bound for Abkhazia and detained five Russian soldiers.

Spy Plane Video
Georgia's Interior Ministry has released this video, which it says shows that Russia is building up heavy weaponry in the separatist region of Abkhazia. The ministry says the video, which appears to show unidentified vehicles parked in rows on May 4, was taken from a spy plane. Under the 1994 cease-fire agreement, heavy weaponry is banned from the conflict zone. The footage has not been independently confirmed.