MOSCOW - The Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, put his republic's army and police on red alert against terrorists yesterday after neighbouring Caucasian tribes threatened to send armed volunteers to help secessionists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, writes Helen Womack.
Police with sub-machine-guns were patrolling all roads into Tbilisi, Itar-Tass news agency said, 'to prevent the penetration of the Georgian capital by terrorists and saboteurs from the northern Caucasus'. The State Council, which is ruling Georgia pending elections, drew up contingency plans for national mobilisation to counter any outside intervention.
Mr Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who returned to his native Georgia earlier this year, sent troops into Abkhazia a week ago after the autonomous region declared full independence, a move Tbilisi could not accept. Georgian troops quickly took control of the Abkhazian capital, Sukhumi, forcing defiant separatist leaders to move further up the coast.
The Confederation of Highland Nations of the Caucasus, grouping hill peoples from the Russian side of the mountain range, said it intended to send volunteers to 'offer armed resistance to the Georgian aggressors' and there were reports that buses were bringing Muslim Chechens and Kabardinians into Abkhazia. 'We will not let hostilities take place in Georgia,' declared Mr Shevardnadze. 'If this happens, we shall announce mobilisation to protect Georgian territory.' Aware of the danger of a Caucasian war, Russia's President, Boris Yeltsin, regards the strife as an internal Georgian affair and has promised to keep Russia out of the conflict, in which about 70 have died.
Mr Shevardnadze has assured the Abkhazians that their minority rights will be respected if they return to the Georgian fold, but the separatist leader, Vladislav Ardzinba, refuses to start peace talks until Tbilisi's troops withdraw from the region. Yesterday gun battles were reported in the suburbs of Sukhumi, normally a popular seaside resort, and the Abkhazians accused the Georgians of using chemical weapons.
The Abkhazians are bitter about the overthrow earlier this year of the controversial Georgian leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a native of Abkhazia.
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan took another vicious turn as Armenia reported that about three dozen civilians had been killed and 200 wounded in Azeri bombing raids over Stepanakert.
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