Georgia threatens force against Abkhazia revolt

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The Independent Online
SUKHUMI - The Georgian government yesterday threatened military force to crush nationalist resistance in its breakaway western region of Abkhazia. Tengiz Kitovani, the Defence Minister, issued an ultimatum to Vladislav Ardzinba, the leader of the Abkhazian parliament, to resign, after three days of fighting in which dozens of people died.

'We demand the immediate resignation of the head of the Abkhazian parliament. If he declines, we shall move forces into Sukhumi and disband his illegal parliament,' said Mr Kitovani.

The local parliament angered Georgian authorities last month by restoring a 1925 constitution describing Abkhazia as an independent state. Tension boiled over into armed conflict last week when Eduard Shevardnadze, the Georgian leader, sent troops to Abkhazia to search for rebels who had kidnapped his Interior Minister. Fierce fighting broke out between the Georgian forces and Abkhazian irregulars. Mr Shevardnadze said yesterday that up to 40 people had been killed. Abkhazia's Health Ministry put the death toll at more than 50.

Sergei Bagapsh, Abkhazia's First Deputy Prime Minister, said: 'We shall try to negotiate, but we plan no resignation on the spot.' He appealed to leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United Nations to urge Georgia to withdraw.

Mr Shevardnadze, in a radio interview, told Georgians to be ready to fight 'forces of evil' - his term for supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was toppled last January.

The Chechen region of southern Russia has placed its forces on full alert to repulse alleged Georgian aggression. A spokesman for Georgia's State Council said pro- Gamsakhurdia rebels who kidnapped a dozen officials in the west of the country last week released three of their captives yesterday. They still hold three hostages including Alexander Kavsadze, the Deputy Prime Minister.

In Sukhumi, the Abkhazian capital, looting broke out overnight after the rival forces disengaged on Sunday in line with a ceasefire agreement.