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Georgia: Battles Continue In Abkhazia Despite Truce

Dikhazurga, Georgia; 26 May 1998 (RFE/RL) - Correspondents near the frontline between Georgian guerillas and Abkhaz separatist forces say clashes in the Russian-patrolled buffer zone continued this morning after the deadline for a ceasefire agreement took effect. A Reuters reporter in the zone says houses were burning in the village of Dikhazurga, and that small arms fire and occasional explosions were audible.

Ethnic Georgian refugees from Dikhazurga watched their village burn from Georgian-held territory.

Some 1,500 Russian peacekeeping soldiers and 100 United Nations monitoring staff patrolled the zone jointly today for the first time in a bid to enforce the ceasefire.

But Russian chief peacekeeper, General Sergei Korobko, said it appears orders to cease fire had not reached commanders by the time the truce was due to begin.

Itar-Tass also quotes Abkhaz deputy security chief, Sergei Tsargush, as saying shooting in Gali district has now stopped and that disengagement has begun.

The commander of the UN mission in the western Georgian town of Zugdidi, Colonel Reinhart Hollinger, says Georgian and Abkhaz fighters have not yet completely disengaged and withdrawn from the zone as had been agreed by the warring parties last night.

Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in 1993 after defeating Georgian troops at the end of an almost one year conflict that forced thousands of ethnic Georgians to flee the province. The latest fighting pitted Abkhaz separatists against Georgian militants with both sides suffering apparently heavy casualties. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has said he will not send regular Georgian troops to Abkhazia in order to avoid another war.