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Georgia laughs off reports of upcoming military action in Abkhazia

RIA Novosti

04/05/2008 12:20 TBILISI, May 4 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's Foreign Ministry has responded with a sense of humor to Russian media reports concerning an imminent Georgian military operation in its breakaway republic of 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 threatened to use force if Georgia employs "violent measures," against its peacekeepers or Russian nationals living in Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

Russia's Foreign Ministry released a statement on Wednesday defending the increase in peacekeepers, saying it was "aimed at ensuring the basic rights of Abkhazia and South Ossetia's residents."

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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