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Georgia: Troops Prepare To Defend City From Mutineers

Tbilisi, 19 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze told state television today that government troops are in place and ready to stop a column of some 200 army mutineers from entering the country's second city of Kutaisi. The mutineers are led by Akaki Eliava, a one-time ally of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The independent Caucasus Press reports that the mutineers demand the restoration of Gamsakhurdia's government, which was overthrown in 1992.

The mutineers deserted from their brigade in the western Georgian town of Senaki early this morning. Reports say they seized some 13 armored vehicles and arms and moved to block the road leading to the Black Sea port of Poti.

At last report they were advancing towards Kutaisi, after talks with government negotiators failed. Reporters in Kutaisi said gun and artillery fire could be heard on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani International Operating Company (AIOC) says it has suspended work in western Georgia on a preliminary Caspian oil pipeline because of the mutiny. Construction stopped following today's mutiny, which is within 30 kilometers of the pipeline route.

Tbilisi says the AIOC has nearly completed work on the preliminary pipeline from Baku to Georgia's Black Sea port at Supsa. An independent news agency, the Black Sea Press, quotes Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev as saying that his country is "very concerned" about the mutiny.