|Kodori Gorge. UNOMIG photo|
Upper Kodori gorge – the only part of breakaway Abkhazia which is not under the secessionist authorities’ control – with its forested landscape and rocky hills is a tough place for offensive warfare, retired Colonel of the Georgian Armed Forces Akia Barbakadze says.
“The use of military hardware is just impossible there. Theoretically [the use of] air forces and artillery is possible in areas like this, but in Kodori specifically artillery is useless, as a peaceful population lives there,” Barbakadze said.
Officials say that a “police operation” is underway in the gorge, which was launched on July 25.
Since the Internal Troops’ combat units were put under the authority of the Ministry of Defense in November of 2004, the Interior Ministry now has a special purpose unit.
“It is most likely that this unit is involved. But presence of Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili on the scene makes me think that it is not only police forces that are involved,” the military expert said.
Reports say that officers from the Interior Ministry’s Department for Constitutional Security are also involved.
Barbakadze also said that when a police operation is underway a level of media censorship exists, but not on the scale that it has been during the current developments in Kodori gorge.
The village of Khaishi in the mountainous Svaneti region, which borders with breakaway Abkhazia, has recently turned into a Georgian journalists’ base, as they are barred from entering further into the area which leads to the upper Kodori gorge in Abkhazia via a bumpy road.
“In many cases the presence of journalists hinders an operation of this kind,” Giorgi Arveladze, chief of the Georgian President’s Administration, said on July 26.
Barbakadze said that a prompt capture of a local warlord Emzar Kvitsiani, who leads the Kodori-based militia group Monadire (Hunter), was impossible because the governmental forces failed to conduct a surprise attack.
The Monadire paramilitary group was set up back in the early 90s during the armed conflict in Abkhazia. The group was legalized through its incorporation into the Defense Ministry in 2002. But in 2005 the Defense Ministry disbanded the group, triggering its members’ protest. Although the group was officially disbanded, authorities did not disarm its members.
“It is yet unclear what the authorities’ plans will be after militiamen there are disarmed. The government will have to address the problem of protecting the gorge from a potential Abkhaz offensive,” Barbakadze said.
There are no exact reports on the current number of Monadire members. When the unit was part of the Defense Ministry its numbers varied from 300 to 400. “But at times its numbers even reached 700,” Barbakadze said.
Influential parliamentarian Givi Targamadze, who chairs the defense and security committee, said Kvitsiani’s militias are “well-armed.” He also alleged that Russia recently supplied the Monadire paramilitary unit with arms and communication systems.
Imedi television station, which interviewed Emzar Kvitsiani in Kodori gorge on July 23, showed footage depicting militia members armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and shoulder launched munitions.