Georgia ups ante on Russian peacekeepers

Georgia is demanding the UN withdraw all Russian peacekeeping forces from the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, in a serious twist in a dispute over their work.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili made a statement at a special session of the country's National Security council that's been convened to discuss an incident between Georgian troops and the peacekeepers.

On Tuesday Saakashvili demanded the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia, General Sergey Chaban, leave Georgia within a day.

“We demand your military leave the county. General Chaban is persona non grata in Georgia. We demand to stop all the provocations. We won't tolerate any similar incident and will respond immediately,” said Mikhail Saakashvili.

The incident started Tuesday morning. The Russian peacekeepers said they were patrolling an area near the Black Sea coast looking for dead animals as part of a hygienic mission, when three Georgian policemen approached the peacekeepers' armoured vehicle and threatened to burn it.

It's clear that this is yet another provocation from the Georgian authorities. It was well-planned, but that does not make it any less crooked. Lately, President Saakashvili has been having some serious problems inside his country. The country is being shaken by scandals, all democratic rights and freedoms are being violated, and the opposition is being suppressed.

Konstantin Kosachev, the Head of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee
“Georgian soldiers threatened peacekeepers. They said they would burn down their armoured carrier and shoot them. They also tried to prevent them from performing their mission,” said General Sergey Chaban.

Russian peacekeepers disarmed and detained Georgian policemen but later handed them back to the Georgian side.

President Saakashvili and other Georgian top officials visited the scene where they called for the commander of the Russian peacekeepers forces to leave Abkhazia.

This all relates back to the Georgian parliament's resolution which requested all Russian peacekeepers leave Georgia.

Meantime, according to Georgian media reports, the Russian peacekeepers surrounded what is known as the Patriot youth camp in the area and arrested three members of the Georgian Interior Ministry special unit, who were there.

The Abkhazian side says that Georgia is merely trying to discredit the Russian peacekeeping force which has been in the conflict zone since the end of the Abkhaz-Georgian war in early 1990s. There was some violence over those years but no serious hostilities have broken out.

Now the Abkhazian authorities have moved more forces to the de-facto border with Georgia just in case of any hostilities. They say this is the response to Georgia mobilising its troops in the region. Abkhazia is sure this is a provocation of Georgia.

“Georgians want to switch everyone's attention from tension within the country to appease peacekeepers. They use it as a pretext. Then they will talk about all the peacekeepers leaving the region,” commented the President of Abkhazia Sergey Bagapsh.

Abkhazia also says the amount of Georgian troops stationed in the conflict area between the two countries is twice the number that was determined by an international accord.

So far the situation remains calm. General Sergey Chaban says that Russian peacekeeping forces are fully performing their duty and that they are totally in their rights to do what they have done earlier on Tuesday. Situation is stable and no further violence is expected, claims he.

Konstantin Kosachev, the Head of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, claims the incident is another provocation from the Georgian side.

“It's clear that this is yet another provocation from the Georgian authorities. It was well-planned, but that does not make it any less crooked. Lately, President Saakashvili has been having some serious problems inside his country. The country is being shaken by scandals, all democratic rights and freedoms are being violated, and the opposition is being suppressed,” said Mr Kosachev.