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6 Jul, 2008 02:29

Breakaway region shows map of alleged Georgian invasion

The leader of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia has accused Tbilisi of planning to seize the self-proclaimed republic by force. Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh says Georgia was going to block Russian peacekeepers

Bagapsh claimed he possesses “infallible proof of [Georgian President] Saakashvili’s criminal intentions… to invade and occupy the Republic”.

Georgia had been intending to invade Abkhazia in April, Bagapsh announced. Abkhazian military officials have produced a map they claim to have acquired at that time, allegedly showing how the Georgian military operation was to be carried out.

Tbilisi has denied all the allegations, saying the statement made by the Abkhazian president is nonsense.

“Of course, it’s all rubbish, such statements shouldn’t be discussed seriously,” said Nikoloz Rurua, Deputy Chairman of the Defence and Security Committee of the Georgian Parliament.

The conflicts around Georgia's breakaway republics go back a long way. In the 1920s Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, decided to merge his homeland with several regions that were previously autonomous republics of the Russian Empire.
However, in the early 1990s, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia. Tbilisi sent in troops, and two wars started within several months of each other.

In less than a year, Georgia had lost, but it retained its resolve to regain control over the breakaway territories. Politicians, including former Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the country’s current leader Mikhail Saakashvili and his former ally, the former defence minister Irakli Okruashvili, have often used promises to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia under control, in order to garner support.

Last week, tensions rose in Abkhazia as four bombs went off in two separate incidents in the towns of Gagra and Sukhumi. More than a dozen people were injured. Abkhazia reacted immediately by closing its border with Georgia.

The breakaway republic has announced it believes Georgia is to blame.

Maksim Gvindzhia, Abkhazia’s deputy foreign minister, told RT that Georgia has sent people to Abkhazia to perform violent acts several times.

Tbilisi denies any involvement. Abkhazia claims Georgia is using provocation to scare off Russian tourists, who might otherwise have come to the republic's Black Sea resorts. Despite the recent incidents, Abkhazia’s leaders are still hoping to attract as many tourists as possible and promise to provide maximum security.

In a meeting with the Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said escalation of the conflict in the Caucasus is unacceptable.

This comes amid a new wave of violence in South Ossetia. On Friday, the leader of the unrecognised republic accused Tbilisi of shelling its capital Tskhinvali. Georgia claimed it was merely returning fire in response to attacks from the South Ossetian side.

On Sunday morning there were four explosions in Georgia, near its border with the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. The assistant commander of the peacekeeping contingent stationed there says they were most likely artillery shells or mines. The four blasts went off simultaneously. No one is reported to have been injured.