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Peacekeepers in Abkhazia set up additional posts

RIA Novosti

01/03/2008 15:00 MOSCOW, March 1 (RIA Novosti) - Collective peacekeeping forces in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict have set up additional observation posts, an aide to the peacekeeping force commander said on Saturday.

"That was done to defuse tension that developed following an incident the day before, when three Abkhaz police were injured in a roadside bomb attack," Alexander Diordiyev said.

Some media reports said Georgian commandos were responsible for the attack. But Georgia denied any involvement.

Georgia's Rustavi-2 TV reported that Georgian soldiers were involved in the attack and that Georgian Interior Ministry special troops were concentrating near the administrative border separating Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia.

Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh announced on Friday the partial mobilization of the de facto independent republic's military, citing fears that Georgian troops could cross over into the breakaway region.

The Abkhazian leader said the situation had escalated following statements by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who promised to use force to liberate a Georgian journalist detained by Abkhaz police. Tensions have also been raised following a recent incident in the Gali district during which an Abkhazian police car was blown up.

Abkhazian presidential spokesman Kristian Bzhaniya said partial mobilization would take place parallel to a large-scale routine military exercise on February 29 - March 4.

Anatoly Zaitsev, the chief of the General Staff, said up to 2,500 soldiers would be involved in the exercise.

Georgian journalist Malkhaz Basilai was arrested in Abkhazia on Tuesday while reporting on voting planned for the Russian presidential elections in the breakaway republic. Abkhazian authorities accused him of having illegally crossed into the Abkhazia.

Saakashvili subsequently threatened the use of force to liberate Basilai. Abkhazia then warned Tbilisi against issuing ultimatums.

Last week leaders of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which saw bloody conflicts after they declared independence from Georgia in 1991, said that Kosovo's independence should be taken into account as far as their sovereignty was concerned.

Abkhazia said on Thursday it would seek recognition from Russia and the European Union.

Russia has repeatedly said the recognition of the Balkan region's independence would set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.

Political analysts fear that the declaration of independence by Kosovo, and its subsequent recognition by Western powers, will open up a Pandora's Box of separatist issues in Europe and beyond.

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