Shevardnadze to tell UN of 'holy war' threat

IN HIS first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly as leader of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze is to warn today that Islamic fundamentalism threatens Transcaucasia and the south Russian region. The former Soviet foreign minister is expected to propose some kind of UN intervention to prevent a spread of guerrilla wars.

With reference to Georgia's conflict with separatists in the western province of Abkhazia, in which more than 70 people have been reported killed in the past month, Mr Shevardnadze is to suggest that Muslim groups in the Caucasian mountains inside Russia and to the north of Georgia have linked with Abkhazians, who are also Muslims, in a 'holy war' against Armenia and Georgia.

In an interview with the Independent in Tbilisi before flying to New York, Mr Shevardnadze said there was evidence of outside help from other Muslim countries, but he declined to name any.

In Russia, he blamed the Chechens, who inhabit the northern slopes of the Great Caucasus, and the self-styled Confederation of Caucasian Mountain People, who have vowed to 'break the back of Georgian fascism' by declaring Georgia a 'zone of hostilities'. The confederation's leader, Musa Shanibov, was arrested this week on the orders of the Russian prosecutor, on charges of fomenting ethnic strife. Mr Shevardnadze said: 'I still hope we shall find political means to settle the conflict in Abkhazia . . . but if the Chechens continue their attacks, many lives will be lost and it will draw out into a big war.'

Georgia moved 3,000 troops into Abkhazia after the parliament of the autonomous region demanded more independence. Abkhazia became an autonomous region inside Georgia in 1921. Its population of 500,000 is predominantly Georgian, and there are fewer than 100,000 Abkhazians, but they have a majority of seats in the legislature. The Georgians said 7,000 men had moved into Abkhazia from the mountains and from Chechen, vowing to defend the Abkhazians against the Georgian intervention.

A Georgian unit was reported missing yesterday after Abkhazian nationalists led an offensive near the city of Gagra, west Georgia, according to Itar-Tass news agency, AFP reports.

Georgian troops were encircled by Abkhazian fighters in the town of Kolkhida, near Gagra. One Georgian soldier was killed and eight wounded. The Black Sea resort of Gagra, north of Sukhumi, was controlled by Georgian troops who entered Abkhazia in August.

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