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Police operation in Abkhazia gorge continuing - Georgia

RIA Novosti

26/07/2006 10:07 TBILISI, July 26 (RIA Novosti) - Officials in Georgia said Wednesday a police operation to disarm what they called criminal gangs in a gorge on the de facto border with the breakaway region of Abkhazia was continuing.

The Georgian Interior Ministry said police had moved in units and disarmed "several small groups of criminals." Several trucks with hundreds of armed people were seen entering the area.

Some sources, however, said three people were in a nearby hospital - one in a serious condition - after a firefight in the Kodori Gorge on Tuesday night.

The CIS peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia and Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov confirmed Tuesday that an exchange of gunfire had taken place in the gorge, but Abkhazia's Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Zaitsev dismissed media reports as a "provocation."

The alleged incident came two days after Emzar Kvitsiani, a former presidential envoy to the gorge, the only Tbilisi-controlled part of Abkhazia, said he did not recognize Tbilisi's rule. He said Georgian troops were moving to the area to disarm former members of his Hunter border guard battalion, which was formally disbanded in 2005, though most members refused to lay down their arms.

Sources said Kvitsiani and his militia were still in the gorge, though Georgian television reported Tuesday that he had fled for Abkhazia, in northwestern Georgia. Abkhazia's top military official said Kvitsiani was not in the breakaway republic.

On Tuesday morning, a high-ranking source in Georgia's government said they hoped to resolve the conflict peacefully but were not ruling out the use of force to restore order if no agreement was reached with Kvitsiani. The Georgian government also denied reports on the Georgian troops being deployed near the border with Abkhazia.

Following the fire exchange in Kodori, Georgia's Rustavi television aired an audio recording Tuesday with an alleged conversation between Kvitsiani and Georgian opposition politician Irakly Batiashvili. Rustavi said that the taped conversation featured Kvitsiani's voice as saying the Abkhazian leadership was providing him with weapons and manpower but Abkhazia's Zaitsev denied the information.

"It is merely information warfare," he said.

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