Military operation reported in Kodori Gorge

Georgian media is reporting that Russian helicopters and Abkhazian forces carried out a strike on several villages in the upper part of Kodori Gorge, on the border between Georgia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

The area in question, called Upper Abkhazia by Tbilisi, is controlled by Georgian authorities after a military operation in the summer of 2006. It is also the place where Abkhazia's government-in-exile, supported by Georgia, resides.

The government's representatives said the helicopters came from Russia's side and also from the territory controlled by Abkhazia's de-facto government. 

No casualties are reported, though the Georgian media agencies claim the residents of the area fled their homes and are hiding in the forest. 

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was on an official visit to Kazakhstan, where he flew from Japan, decided to cut short his trip and return to Georgia to investigate the incident. 

The Georgian Security Council has met to discuss the situation in the Kodori Gorge. Following the meeting, the country's Foreign Minister, Gela Bezhuashvili, and the Minister for Conflict Resolution, Merab Antadze, have announced the next steps they plan to take.

‘I have received instructions from the president, which are to inform the international community and our partner-countries about the situation. We have already met with ambassadors accredited in Georgian, and now I am going to talk to the Russian Foreign Minister,’ Mr Bezhuashvili said.

Mr Antadze has assured that ‘the population has full guarantees to feel safe’.

‘Now we and the Foreign Ministry are working with the UN Special Representative. We have a special joint investigation group, created to make an evaluation of the incident,’ he added. 

There are also reports that Georgia's Armed Forces are on standby to react to any further developments.  

Meanwhile, Abkhazian authorities say they are prepared for any aggression from the Georgian side. They have denied all the accusations. 

‘No aircraft has been deployed in the area. We have been observing the situation carefully since last summer, when Georgia broke the agreement and deployed troops there. There was no shooting. Nobody would send helicopters at night in the mountains. This was just an attempt to attract public attention and prove that their operation last summer was justified,’ said Abkhazia's de-facto government Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba. 

The Russian Air Force has also denied any involvement in the incident, saying there were no helicopters deployed in the area. 

The Deputy Commander-in-Chief of ground forces, Lieutenant-General Valery Yevnevich, in an interview with Russia Today, said it was impossible for the Russian military to have been involved.

‘The weather conditions at the time of the alleged attack are normally very unfavourable for flying. The helicopters that are used by the Russian Peacekeeping Forces in Abkhazia are not capable of flying at night, since they do not have the necessary equipment. Based on this, we can say that this is a provocation from the Georgian side,’ he explained.

‘What happened in the Kodori Gorge is nothing other than a direct consequence of the presence of the Georgian troops and the Abkhazian so-called government-in-exile in the area,’ Mikhail Kamynin, the Spokesman of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said.