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Georgia frees Abkhazian servicemen in an “act of goodwill”

Georgia has finally freed seven Abkhazian servicemen held captive since September in what, it says, is an act of goodwill. Their arrests followed a shoot-out on the border of Georgia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, during which two soldiers died.

The decision to release the men follows a UN-sponsored meeting between senior Georgian and Abkhazian representatives in Sukhumi last week.

The seven Abkhazians were captured by Georgians after an armed attack on September 20, which killed two officers. The incident happened in upper Kodori Gorge on the Georgian-Abkhazian border.

The deadly clash triggered fresh tension between Tbilisi and Sukhumi. Each side accused the other of intruding onto its territory.

The Kodori Gorge
The Kodori Gorge

The Georgians say their troops were attacked by an Abkhazian military group which was allegedly preparing to carry out a terrorist attack.

Georgia's Minister of Conflicts Settlement David Bakradze said an armed Abkhazian unit entered a Georgian-controlled area which connects the upper-Abkhazian Kodori Gorge with the rest of Georgia.

“The clear objective of that unit was to control part of the road and to attack the road,” Mr Bakradze said.

Abkhazia says Georgian anti-terrorist forces attacked its servicemen, killing two Russian nationals from a training centre in Abkhazian territory.

De facto Abkhazian Foreign Minister, Sergey Shamba, says the purpose of the anti-terrorist training centre is to prepare recruits “to check whether reports about Georgia's troops crossing the border controlled by Tbilisi are correct.”

The breakaway republic of Abkhazia, located on the Black Sea, has enjoyed de facto independence from Georgia since 1993.