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Is The White Legion Back In Business?

A land-mine exploded near the village of Eristsqali in Georgia's Tsalendjikha district, close to the border with Abkhazia, on June 21, damaging an ambulance that was accompanying a motorized patrol by the members of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM). The ambulance driver, a Georgian national, died later that day of his injuries.

It was the second explosion in or near Eristsqali targeting the EU monitors: Two Georgians were killed in the fall of 2008 when an explosive device detonated in the vicinity.

The EUMM was deployed to Georgia in late September in line with an agreement signed in Moscow earlier that month by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, representing the EU, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The 200-plus unarmed EU monitors replaced Russian troops withdrawn from the border areas between Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia.

In the mid and late 1990s, Russian peacekeepers deployed under the CIS aegis in Abkhazia were repeatedly the target of landmines laid by Georgia's clandestine White Legion guerrilla formation. That band, composed primarily of Georgians forced to abandon their homes in Abkhazia during the1992-93 war, launched a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt in May1998 to reconquer Abkhazia by force.

The White Legion, and a second such group, the Forest Brothers, continued their low-level attacks on both Russian peacekeepers and Abkhaz civilians until early 2004, when the new leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili moved to demobilize and disarm them.

But in November 2005, Jane's Intelligence quoted White Legion chief Zurab Samushia as arguing the need to revive the guerrilla movement in the Gali district of southeastern Abkhazia to protect the ethnic Georgian population there. In an interview published in the "Georgian Times" on March 17, 2008, Samushia said he planned to revive the Legion, which would operate on Abkhaz territory and seek to disrupt preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

In January 2007, the Russian news agency Regnum reported that Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili met unofficially on several occasions in Zugdidi, western Georgia, with three local warlords to discuss creating a new, 1,500 man military unit to fuel unrest in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali district. That report was never independently confirmed.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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