20 killed in Georgian separatist fighting

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The Independent Online
SUKHUMI, Georgia - Frightened residents fled this resort by sea yesterday to escape fighting between Georgians and rebel Abkhazians in which at least 20 people have been killed.

Georgian and Abkhazian leaders withdrew their forces from the centre of town, but sporadic gunfire rang out despite a ceasefire agreed on Saturday.

Itar-Tass news agency said a Russian paratroop regiment had arrived to evacuate 1,700 holidaymakers from Defence Ministry sanatoria in the Abkhazian capital. Three days of fighting have transformed Sukhumi, a health resort with beaches shaded by palm trees, into a battleground between Georgian troops and Abkhazian separatists.

The threatened slide towards civil war has faced the Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, with his worst crisis since he took power in the former Soviet republic in March. Abkhazia, a region of western Georgia which grows tea, fruit and tobacco, effectively declared independence last month with a parliamentary vote restoring its 1925 constitution.

Trouble flared on Friday when Georgia sent troops to find the kidnappers of the Interior Minister, Roman Gventsadze, and other senior officials abducted three days earlier. Bands of armed Abkhazians, a Caucasian ethnic group who are heavily outnumbered by Georgians even within Abkhazia, have fought fierce battles against what they see as an invading army.

MOSCOW (AP) - The government of the disputed enclave of Nagorny Karabakh has resigned and created a state defence committee to rule the region until fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan ends, Itar-Tass said yesterday. The resignation of Oleg Esoyan, the Prime Minister, was accepted by the regional parliament on Saturday.