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Accusations Fly After Blast Rocks Abkhazia

Georgia -- Map with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, updated 2008
A bomb has exploded near the de facto border between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia.

No major injuries were reported by the blast, which rocked a post used by Russian troops.

Both Russian peacekeepers and the Abkhaz separatist government were quick to point the finger at Georgian authorities for the latest in three blasts to hit Abkhazia in recent days.

Saparbey Mikanba, the Abkhaz prosecutor-general, said all three blasts were carried out by one and the same group. "The Sochi bureau of experts, whom we ordered to carry out an examination, will issue the final conclusion. But we can already say that the incidents are linked, they carry the same signature, the same means and methods were used for the blasts," Mikanba said.

The string of blasts marks a new low in tense relations between Russia and the pro-Western government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Like many in Moscow, Caucasus expert Aleksei Vashchenko blames Georgia for the violence.

"After meeting with Saakashvili, [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev reaffirmed his tough stance. The blasts started immediately after this; Saakashvili understood that the new Russian president will not help solve the Abkhaz problem to Georgia's advantage. These incidents will unquestionably aggravate relations between Russian and Georgia," Vashchenko said.

Moscow Support

Abkhazia broke away from the central government in Tbilisi following a war in the early 1990s, but the separatist leadership has yet to be recognized internationally. Even Russia -- which has backed the region financially, deployed peacekeepers, and granted passports to most residents -- has yet to recognize the region's sovereignty.

But Moscow's support of separatist rebels in Abkhazia and South Ossetia nonetheless riles Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has vowed to bring the two regions back into the fold. Saakashvili has already held a set of talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev; the two leaders are reportedly planning to resume negotiations in the near future.

Moscow, however, continues to accuse Tbilisi of mounting a military operation to forcefully regain control of Abkhazia.

In Tbilisi, the Georgian authorities have denied any role in the explosions. And the Abkhaz government in exile, based in Tbilisi, has throw its weight behind Georgia.

Malkhaz Akishbaia, the prime minister of the Abkhaz government in exile, said the separatist authorities have sought to "shift the responsibility for their own failures." "They are pointing the finger at Georgian authorities and accusing them of acts they haven't committed," he said.

Following the first two explosions, which left 10 people wounded, Abkhazia on July 1 closed its border crossing with the rest of Georgia. Georgian officials have voiced concern at the move. They say it will severely affect the thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia's eastern Gali district, who rely heavily on trade and connections with Georgian-controlled territory.

But Ruslan Kishmaria, the special representative of the Abkhaz president in Gali region, said the authorities were "not letting anyone through in either direction, even those holding a valid pass. All passes are cancelled."

This is the first time Abkhazia has shut its border for more than a brief period.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report

In Focus -- Abkhazia