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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Georgia establishes military presence in Kodori - Russian general

RIA Novosti
Wed, 16 Aug 2006, 00:45

MOSCOW: Georgia has used a so-called anti-crime operation in Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge aimed at disarming a rebellious militia unit as a pretext to deploy military forces in the area, a Russian army general said Tuesday.

Georgia launched the operation after a militia leader said on July 23 that he did not recognize Tbilisi's rule in the area, the only part of the breakaway republic of Abkhazia over which Georgia maintains nominal control.

Valery Yevnevich told a news conference in Moscow that militia leader Emzar Kvitsiani "was used as an excuse for Georgia to bring a 2,500-strong force into the Kodori Gorge."

Kvitsiani had said Georgian troops were moving into the area to disarm former members of his 'Hunter' border guard battalion, which was formally disbanded in 2005, although most members refused to lay down their arms.

Yevnevich, the deputy commander of Russia's Land Forces in charge of peacekeeping operations, said Georgia was consolidating its presence in the region by building military infrastructure, including checkpoints and a road, and also planting landmines.

"This points to a military operation," he said.

Tbilisi has maintained that its move was only a police operation, and Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili said in late July that troops would stay in Kodori for the time being to complete the "mopping-up of criminals from the area."

Yevnevich said Okruashvili's recent claim that the deployment of Georgian troops in the area was legal, suggested either a lack of knowledge of the Moscow Treaty on regulating relations between the parties to the Abkhazian conflict, signed in 1994, or his intentional disregard of the document.

"Under the Article 4 of the Treaty, Georgian troops must withdraw from Kodori," he said. "Deployment of Georgian military force is illegal and contravenes Georgia's international commitments on the conflict settlement."

The breakaway republic of Abkhazia declared its independence in 1992, which led to a conflict with Georgia that ended with a ceasefire two years later. Thousands died during the fighting.

On July 27, Georgian authorities said Abkhazia's new "legitimate government" would be based in the Kodori Gorge.
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