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Russia Deploys Coast Guard To Rebel Georgian Region

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia's coast-guard authority said on September 21 it had begun patrolling waters off Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, where tensions are running high over a Georgian blockade of the rebel-run territory.

Georgia is seizing cargo ships heading to and from the Black Sea rebel region under a ban on unauthorised commercial and economic activity with its two rebel territories, adopted after last year's five-day war with Russia over South Ossetia.

Russia in response said last week it would detain any Georgian ship entering waters claimed by Abkhazia without permission, raising fears of naval skirmishes in the Black Sea.

Quoting a border guard official within the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russian RIA Novosti reported that around eight navy cutters would be deployed to patrol the Abkhaz coastline, the first of which arrived on September 20.

"The patrol boat Novorossiysk on September 20 arrived off the coast of Abkhazia from the Novorossiysk port and began patrols to secure the borders of the republic and the territorial waters," the official said.

Russian navy ships were deployed off the Abkhaz coast during the war in August last year, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia.

The coast guard has been sent under security pacts between Russia and the two territories, which the Kremlin recognized as independent states after the war.

Georgia says it has seized four ships this year trying to deal with Abkhazia, drawing an angry response from the territory's de facto authorities, which said they would destroy Georgian ships in retaliation.

Georgia says the ships were detained in Georgian territorial waters, but the operator of a Turkish tanker seized in last month said the boat was seized at gunpoint in international waters.