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Georgia warns rebels

Moscow - Georgia issued an ultimatum to separatists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia yesterday, giving the rebel leader Vladislav Ardzinba until today to step down or face a new onslaught by government forces, writes Helen Womack. The rebels fled up the coast to the town of Gudauta last week after Georgian troops entered the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi to crush the region's independence drive.

So far about 70 people have died in the conflict but it could become much bloodier if other Caucasian ethnic groups from the Russian side of the mountains come in to help the Abkhazians. According to some reports, several hundred Chechen and Kabardinian fighters have already joined the Abkhazians in Gudauta, having evaded Russian border patrols. The Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, and the Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, have agreed to meet in the next few days to discuss the crisis. Fearing terrorist attacks by the Abkhazians or their allies, Mr Shevardnadze has put the Georgian army on red alert and made contingency plans for national mobilisation.