UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


[ rfe/rl banner ]

Abkhaz PM Survives Assassination Attempt

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Prague, 1 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In Georgia's separatist republic of Abkhazia, Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab survived an overnight assassination attempt as he was traveling to the Black Sea resort of Gudauta.

Authorities believe the attack may be linked to Ankvab's recent pledges to combat organized crime in the secessionist republic. The incident, however, came as the opposition accuses Abkhaz president and Ankvab ally Sergei Bagapsh of violating a Russian-sponsored power-sharing agreement sealed after last year's postelection crisis that threatened to plunge the Black Sea republic into civil strife.

Abkhazia's Interior Ministry says unidentified gunmen opened fire at Ankvab's motorcade late yesterday while he was traveling to Gudauta from the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi.

The incident occurred near the village of Achadara, just a few kilometers north of Sukhumi.

Ankvab was traveling in the front car with his deputy, Leonid Lakerbaya. When the shooting began, the vehicle carrying the two officials sped ahead, while Ankvab's gray sedan, with just the driver inside, was riddled with bullets after being forced to stop.

Ankvab's driver was unhurt, although police afterward counted 17 bullet holes in the car. The assailants reportedly escaped.

Inal Khashig is the editor in chief of "Chegemskaya Pravda," an independent Abkhaz newspaper. He tells our correspondent that details of the attack provided by Ankvab himself and law enforcement agencies suggest the prime minister narrowly escaped death.

"Both his car and Lakerbaya's are GAZ-3110 [Volga] sedans of the same color. Only their plates are different. Yesterday night, visibility was low in Sukhumi [because] it was pouring down in buckets. Both cars have dark windows, and maybe this is what saved Ankvab's life. He goes back to Gudauta every night. He lives there because he has no apartment in Sukhumi," Khashig says.

Abkhaz President Bagapsh today convened an emergency meeting of the Black Sea province's security forces to discuss the overnight incident.

Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency quotes unidentified government officials as suggesting the assassination attempt could be linked to Ankvab's recent pledges to combat organized crime in the Black Sea secessionist province.

Crime Link

In comments broadcast on Abkhaz television today, Ankvab seemed to support the idea that organized crime was behind the attack.

"I think the prime minister and the leadership [of Abkhazia] have hit sore points where criminal structures were earning really big money. And these channels are being blocked now," Ankvab said.

Abkhazia, which won de facto independence from Georgia in the early 1990s, has limited contact with the outside world. Its economy relies heavily on trade with Russia and, to an even greater extent, on smuggling activities to and from other Black Sea regions.

Bagapsh, who won a presidential re-vote on 12 January with more than 90 percent of the vote, has vowed to break with the republic's 15 years under President Vladislav Ardzinba and restore law and order in Abkhazia.

Last month, he appointed Ankvab to run Abkhazia's new government.

Presidential Ally

The 52-year-old Ankvab is a former deputy interior minister of Soviet Georgia. After Abkhazia seceded from Georgia in the early 1990s, he became interior minister in the separatist government.

In 1994, Ankvab moved to Moscow, where he became a prominent businessman. He returned to Abkhazia five years ago.

Ankvab last year had announced plans to run in the 3 October presidential election. But after the Central Election Commission rejected his application, he decided to politically and financially support Bagapsh.

Although Bagapsh was pronounced the winner of the polls, prime minister and government candidate Raul Khajimba refused to concede defeat. The crisis that ensued brought the Black Sea province to the verge of civil strife.

Tension eased only after Russia forced Bagapsh to agree on a new vote in tandem with its protege, Khajimba, or face economic blockade.

Under the terms of a pact signed on 6 December 2005, Bagapsh agreed to have Khajimba run for vice president with exceptional prerogatives over security and foreign policy issues.

The pact, which was later enshrined in a law by the parliament, also stipulated that Khajimba would manage 40 percent of the state budget and have a say over who should hold key ministerial portfolios such as defense, security, and foreign affairs.

Despite these provisions, many in Khajimba's entourage criticized the deal and urged voters to boycott the repeat presidential vote.

Khajimba last week accused Bagapsh of refusing to abide by the terms of the pre-election agreement.

He claimed that -- with the exception of Defense Minister Sultan Sosnaliyev and Security Minister Yuri Ashuba -- the Abkhaz president failed to consult with him on candidates to key government posts.

Bagapsh last week appointed Otar Khetsia as interior minister and has so far refused to endorse Khajimba's candidates for the posts of foreign minister and customs committee chairman.

Khashig says that although many in Abkhazia approve of Bagapsh's stance, his attitude indeed constitutes a violation of the pre-election deal.

"Formally speaking, yes, Bagapsh has violated the 6 December agreement. But there is a moral aspect to this agreement. Of all people who supported Khajimba [in the October polls], Khajimba himself is probably the only one who cast his ballot during the re-vote. Therefore, the moral aspect of the 6 December agreement is being widely discussed in Abkhazia. Many people ask whether Khajimba morally has the right to nominate ministers, all the more so when his candidates are selected from among those who called for the boycott and the cancellation of the re-vote," Khashig says.

Bagapsh, who denies any rift between himself and Khajimba, today ruled out any political motives behind the failed attempt on Ankvab's life.

In his words, there are no disagreements within the Abkhaz leadership. He says that those who attempted to kill the prime minister should be sought "among those who have been making illicit earnings" in the Black Sea province.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list