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Abkhazia says some 7,500 Georgian troops amassed in border area

RIA Novosti

04/05/2008 14:21 MOSCOW, May 4 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia has deployed almost 7,500 troops on its border with Abkhazia, the defense minister of the breakaway republic said on Sunday.

Merab Kishmaria said should a military operation begin, some 3,000 troops will apparently be used to seize the Kodori Gorge, in the northeast of Abkhazia.

"We are watching the movement of troops in the Kodori Gorge. According to our intelligence, up to 7,500 Georgian troops on the Georgian-Abkhaz border are on alert, with 3,000 of them to be used in attempting to take the Kodori Gorge," he said.

He added that the Abkhaz armed forces had also been put on combat alert and that there would be enough forces and military equipment to repulse any "Georgian aggression."

Georgia's Foreign Ministry has responded with a sense of humor to recent Russian media reports concerning an imminent Georgian military operation in Abkhazia.

"The Georgian leadership advises the anonymous representatives of the Russian security agencies...to take a few drops of valerian [a traditional herbal sedative]. However, Georgian doctors believe that valerian will not be potent enough...and they would be better off taking Valium," Georgia's acting foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze, was quoted as saying by a ministry spokesman.

A Russian federal security source said on Saturday that Georgia, "with the participation of foreign experts," had prepared a plan for "armed action" against Abkhazia, which would be carried out within the next few days.

He said the plan envisions "the seizure of vital installations in Abkhazia's coastal area," adding that "a number of foreign embassies in Georgia" were preparing to evacuate their staff from Tbilisi.

Abkhazia, alongside another Georgian breakaway republic, South Ossetia, broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and some 3,000 in Georgian-South Ossetian hostilities. Georgia is looking to regain control over the two de facto independent republics.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi have been escalating rapidly since Russia's outgoing President Vladimir Putin called for closer ties between Moscow and the two breakaway republics in mid-April. Tbilisi also accused Russia of shooting down a reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle on April 20 - a claim Russia flatly denied, calling Georgia's video footage fake.

Moscow has increased the number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 3,000 from 2,000, but has said that this is within the limits envisioned by earlier agreements on the number of peacekeeping troops signed by the Georgian leadership.

Russia has also threatened to use force if Georgia employs "violent measures," against its peacekeepers or Russian nationals living in Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai has said NATO believes that while Russia may technically have the right to do increase troop numbers, "in the political reality, this is not easing tensions, it is raising tensions."



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