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Tensions Rise In Georgia's Kodori Gorge

Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) July 25, 2006 -- Tensions are rising on the Georgian border amid claims that Georgia is deploying soldiers in a bid to disarm a militia leader.

Georgia's Imedi television channel says 500 Georgian troops headed to the Kodori Gorge early on July 25, lending credence to claims by authorities in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia that Georgia is building up its military presence near its border.

News agencies report Russian peacekeepers as saying they have stopped a dozen soldiers and two armored vehicles at a checkpoint on the way to the Kodori Gorge.

The Kodori Gorge district straddles the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.

Its control, though, is limited by the presence in the district of a militia set up in the late 1990s by a former local leader, Emzar Kvitsiani.

The Georgian government last year ordered Kvitsiani's militia to lay down its arms, but he says his militia is prepared to fight if the central government uses force to disarm it.

Tensions resurfaced when, on July 22, Kvitsiani warned that he would "start a civil war" if Vano Merabishvili were reappointed Georgia's interior minister. Kvitsiani is angered by the unsolved murders of a number of prominent members of the local community.

Kvitsiani later also claimed that Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili was preparing to try and occupy the section of the Kodori Gorge over which Georgia still has nominal control, with troops due to enter the territory on July 27. Kvitsiani called for talks with authorities in Tbilisi, a suggestion the government dismissed.

Leaders of Abkhazia's separatist government claimed the movement of troops into the region violates a 1994 ceasefire agreement and a further agreement signed in 1998.

Russia has called on Georgia to "restrain from armed action that could incite new conflict in the region."

(Novosti-Gruziya, Reuters, AFP, AP, Caucasus Press)

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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