Jul 07, 2008

Abkhazia: Blasts raise tension on Georgian border

Sample ImageThe latest blasts in the border area between Georgia and Abkhazia stoke growing tensions.

Below is an article published by the International Herald Tribune

TBILISI, Georgia: Four bombs exploded Sunday [6 July 2008] in the tense border area between Georgia and […] Abkhazia, officials said, in the latest sign of growing tensions between Georgia and [Abkhazian activist]. No injuries were reported.

Moscow and Tbilisi accuse each other of stirring tensions in Abkhazia, which broke away along with the region of South Ossetia from Georgian rule during wars in the 1990s. Russia provides financial support and has peacekeepers in both.

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

A Georgian Interior Ministry official, Shota Utiashvili, said four mines exploded near the village of Rukhi in a region controlled by Georgia.

The fourth went off under a police car as officers investigated the site after the initial blasts, slightly wounding the local deputy police chief, Utiashvili told Reuters.

The fifth bomb exploded in "territory which is de facto controlled by the Abkhaz side in the village of Otobia," Utiashvili said. The site was being investigated by the United Nations mission based in the region.

Colonel Clive Trott, who was at the scene of the blast, said it looked like it was caused by a mortar round.

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," the commander, Alexander Novitsky, was quoted as saying.

On Saturday 5 July 2008, President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia urged the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, to refrain from "stoking tensions" in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Medvedev met Saakashvili in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where both were attending observances of the capital's 10th anniversary.

The Kremlin press service said Medvedev "turned attention to the impermissibleness of inflaming the conditions in the region and underlined the necessity of continuing the talks process."

Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze of Georgia said Saturday 5 July 2008 that "we must not rise to provocations," the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Abkhazia's president, Sergei Bagapsh, said Saturday 5 July 2008 that his region's agents had uncovered evidence of a Georgian plan to mount a land and sea offensive on the region this spring. He claimed that Abkhazian forces were capable of defeating Georgia's military, which has received substantial Western military aid.

"If we were able to stop the Georgian tank armada with hunting rifles before, today - with the armed forces of Abkhazia having received professional training - our foes will be repelled fully," Bagapsh said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the alleged Georgian plan was "regarded with anxiety" and "cannot be considered as anything other than the next step aimed at escalating tensions in the region."

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 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.

Saakashvili sees the reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a top priority.

The spokesman of 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," Tsanava said.

The Georgian television network Rustavi-2 reported that 45 wagonloads of arms entered the capital, Sukhumi. The arms included anti-aircraft systems, anti-aircraft radar and armored vehicles, as well as helicopters and tanks.

Russia and Abkhazia denied the charges, news agencies said.

Moscow's envoy to the NATO headquarters in Brussels accused the west of colluding with Tbilisi.

"I think a lot of Euro-Atlantic structures are actually covering up the adventurism of Mr. Saakashvili who has repeatedly said he wants to restore the territorial integrity by force," Dmitry Rogozin told the television station Vesti-24.

The Finnish foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, who is the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Friday 4 July 2008 that the high tension caused "profound concern."