Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili ruled out a military operation in the gorge, but said the use of police force is possible if it is necessary to restore rule and order in upper Kodori gorge in breakaway Abkhazia, which is out of secessionist authorities’ control.
He also denied reports that Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili is currently in the Kodori Gorge .
Reports were circulating throughout July 25 that a military convoy of Georgian troops departed from the mountainous Svaneti region towards neighboring Kodori Gorge after crossing the northern part of the administrative border with breakaway Abkhazia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and Abkhaz authorities claimed that 30 Kamaz-type trucks, 18 Niva off-road cars and two armored vehicles were dispatched towards Kodori gorge, describing the move as a violation of the 1994 Moscow agreement between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides on cease-fire and separation of forces.
Georgian sources said that about 500 troops from both the Interior Ministry and the Defense Ministry were sent to the area.
According to the 1994 agreement, Georgian troops should be withdrawn from Kodori Gorge “beyond the frontiers of Abkhazia.”
Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh warned that Abkhaz forces will undertake “adequate measures” if the Georgian troops cross Russian peacekeepers’ checkpoints located in a lower Kodori gorge.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also accused Tbilisi of violating the Moscow agreement and warned Tbilisi to refrain from use of force, which “may provoke a new conflict in the region.”
But Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said that Tbilisi has no intention to carry out either a police or military operation on a territory currently under the control of the secessionist authorities.
The Georgian media sources reported later on July 25 that some members of the council of elders of Kodori Gorge are negotiating with rebel warlord Emzar Kvitsiani, while other council members are holding talks with Defense and Interior Ministers Irakli Okruashvili and Vano Merabishvili, respectively, in an attempt to peacefully solve the crisis which erupted after ex-governor of the Kodori gorge Emzar Kvitsiani announced his defiance towards the central authorities on July 22.
Rustavi 2 television reported that the council of elders – an influential informal body composed of respected local residents – is trying to convince Emzar Kvitsiani to flee from the gorge into Abkhaz-controlled territory, at least for the time being. However, Kvitsiani wants the authorities to legalize his paramilitary group Monadire (Hunter), an option which the authorities have rejected. The group was part of the Defense Ministry, but it was disbanded in 2005 by Defense Minister Okruashvili.
No direct talks are underway between officials and Kvitsiani himself.
“We can only negotiate with the local population of Kodori, but not with betrayer,” MP Maia Nadiradze, leader of the parliamentary majority, said on July 25.
Meanwhile in Tbilisi, Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze met with representatives of Kodori and Svaneti communities on July 25 to discuss the situation in Kodori Gorge.
The meeting proved to be tough for Burjanadze as it grew into verbal sparring, with Svaneti community leaders calling on the authorities to refrain from using force in Kodori. At the meeting the authorities were also accused of not paying proper attention to the remote gorge.
Immediately after this meeting, Chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz Government-in-exile Malkhaz Akishbaia convened a news conference and announced a number of new social programs that the authorities plan to implement in Kodori gorge.