Abkhazians proclaim liberation: Mass flight of 100,000 refugees as pockets of Georgian resistance are hunted down

MOSCOW - Abkhazian rebels said yesterday they had captured their entire Black Sea region and were breaking pockets of resistance of demoralised Georgian defenders. A statement issued by the Abkhazian mission in Moscow said insurgent forces had reached the territory's border with the rest of Georgia on the Ingur river on Thursday night and hoisted their flag there.

'The territory of Abkhazia has been completely liberated from Georgian occupiers,' the statement said. 'Measures are being taken to render harmless bandit groups hiding in forests and mountain areas.'

Georgian forces were routed on Monday in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, which has been seeking greater autonomy from the Tbilisi government since 1989.

Georgian officials in Tbilisi said their leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, had flown to the central city of Kutaisi, where he was expected to meet local security forces.

The capture of Sukhumi and the advance of Abkhazian forces further south down the coast were the culmination of an offensive launched last month which shattered a Russian-sponsored ceasefire in the region after more than 1,000 deaths in a year of fighting.

The fighting has created a mass refugee problem, with more than 100,000 people, mostly Georgians, following the soldiers on foot, by car, lorry or tractor. Georgia's Interior Ministry said a civil helicopter flying to pick up refugees in the region had crashed in bad weather on Thursday, killing about six people on board.

The defeat has sapped Georgian morale and cast the country into deep uncertainty less than two years after independence from the Soviet Union. On Thursday, the rebels swept the last Georgian forces out of Abkhazia, advancing some 90km (65 miles) in a single day as panicking government troops scattered before them.

The rout ended all attempts among the fleeing Georgians to patch up a rift between Mr Shevardnadze's forces and a rival Georgian army fielded by the ousted president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Gun battles broke out between the two chaotic forces as they escaped, either south-east towards Gamsakhurdia territory or north into the foothills of the Caucasus mountains.

Mr Gamsakhurdia reappeared last week in his stronghold of Zugdidi, after nearly two years in exile, while Mr Shevardnadze was defending Sukhumi. Tens of thousands of refugees have flooded into Zugdidi.

Mr Gamsakhurdia commands strong support across western Georgia, an ethnically distinct region whose people speak a separate dialect from Tbilisi's in the east.

In Kiev, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry denounced the Abkhazian advance as a violation of the ceasefire and said Russia had failed in its role as a mediator.

Mr Shevardnadze had visited Kiev twice in recent months to ask Ukraine to act as an intermediary in the conflict.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory