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Fresh Blasts Rattle Georgian Conflict Zone

TBILISI -- Georgian officials said there have been five explosions near the de facto border between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia, in the latest sign of growing tensions between Tbilisi and separatists.

A series of incidents in the past week, involving bombs, mortar shelling, and shootouts have been matched by sharp condemnations from Moscow and Tbilisi, as both sides blame each other for thawing what had been frozen conflicts.

Georgia's rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from central rule during wars in the 1990s and are flashpoints for tensions with Russia, which provides financial support and has peacekeepers in both.

A spokesman for the Georgian-backed government in exile of Abkhazia accused Russia of shipping arms into Abkhazia. News agencies quoted Russia's Ministry of Defense and the Abkhazian government as denying the charge.

"Four mines exploded [on July 6] in the morning nearby to a village called Rukhi, in Georgia's Zubdidi region," Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili said.

The fourth explosion went off under a police car when local officers were investigating the site after the initial blasts, although no one was injured, Utiashvili told Reuters.

Georgian television showed the bomb-damaged car and policemen standing nearby at the scene.

The fifth bomb went off at another village, also close to the de facto frontier with Abkhazia, with no injuries there either, Utiashvili said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on July 5 to refrain from "stoking tensions" in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Medvedev's message to Saakashvili followed a shootout in South Ossetia and a bomb blast in Abkhazia.

Tbilisi accuses Moscow of seeking to annex the regions, where the majority of the population hold Russian passports. Moscow denies such plans and in turn accuses Tbilisi of seeking to restore control over the provinces by force.

Georgia, which seeks membership of NATO and the European Union, has said it wants to replace Russian peacekeepers currently stationed there with an international force.

A Russian commander in Abkhazia said the uniform of a Georgian special-forces member was found wrapped around the remains of a shell that had been the source of the blasts, RIA news agency reported.

"In the place of the explosion, there remained the uniform," assistant commander Alexander Novitsky was quoted as saying by RIA.

The spokesman for the Georgian-backed government in exile of Abkhazia, Irakly Tsanava, said Russia was violating agreements by bringing arms into Abkhazia. "These acts are extreme and aimed against the Tbilisi and the country," said Tsanava.

Georgia's Rustavi-2 reported that 45 wagonloads of arms entered the capital of Sukhumi. The arms included anti-aircraft systems, anti-aircraft radar and armoured vehicles, as well as helicopters and tanks.

Russia and breakaway authorities in Abkhazia denied the charges, news agencies said.

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