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Skirmish in Kodori
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 9 Jul.'08 / 19:06

Three Georgian policemen were wounded in a clash, which has also left four “attackers” dead in the Kodori Gorge on July 9, a Georgian Interior Ministry official said.

The Abkhaz side confirmed the incident, but said only two of its servicemen were injured.

The both sides have also confirmed that the clash occurred on Mount Achamkhara – a non-populated area between the Georgian and Abkhaz-controlled territories.

“This is kind of a buffer zone between the Georgian-controlled upper Kodori Gorge and the Abkhaz controlled territories and neither side should have any posts there,” Shota Utiashvili, the head of the Interior Ministry’s analytical department, told Civil.Ge, adding that the Georgian side had a post there, but had to remove it last year upon the request of UN observers monitoring ceasefire in the region.

He also said that monitors from the UN Observation Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) was due to launch its inspection of the gorge at 11am local time on July 9 and for that purpose the Georgian police force launched a routine monitoring of the area ahead of the planned monitoring, including in the vicinity of Mount Achamkhara.

After the clash, Utiashvili said, the Georgian side had requested for an immediate inspection of the site by UN observers. But the monitoring was postponed for unspecified reasons for July 10, he said, adding that inspection a day later would hardly bring any clarity. Officials in Tbilisi have suggested that the UN monitoring was postponed because of the Abkhaz side’s refusal to let observers on the incident site.

“The Abkhaz side is hiding as much as it can the information about this incident, in addition the UN observers are not allowed to inspect the incident site; all these make us suppose that not only the Abkhaz forces were stationed there,” Utiashvili said.

The past experience, he added, also shows that Russian fighters or Russian servicemen, who are deployed in the conflict zone as peacekeepers, may have been engaged in the shootout as well.

Former Russian officers, reportedly on contract with the Abkhaz forces, were killed in the clash with Georgian Interior Ministry forces close to the administrative border in September, 2007.

The Abkhaz side, however, has given a different account of the July 9 incident.
The Abkhaz side said in brief information disseminated through its news agency, Apsnipress, that only two of its militiamen were injured after an attack on their post located on Mount Achamkhara.

It said that the post had been attacked by a group of about 10 Georgian servicemen at about 6:25am on July 9. The Defense Ministry of the breakaway region said grenade launchers had been used in the attack, the Abkhaz news agency Apsnipress reported.

It said that “the squad of saboteurs” had retreated “after a brief exchange of fire.”

The Abkhaz side also said it had requested the UNOMIG to probe into the incident, adding that UN observers would launch investigation on July 10.

In a separate incident, the Georgian Interior Ministry reported that a Georgian police post came under grenade attack close to the Shamgona-Akhali Abastumani section of the Abkhaz administrative border in the early hours of July 9. No one was injured, the MIA said.

The Abkhaz side, however, said this reported attack had been “staged” by the Georgian side itself.

“At 4:15 am on July 9, the Georgian secret services carried out yet another provocation, involving staging an attack on the post of the Georgian special purpose unit at the village of Rukhi,” the Abkhaz security service said, according to the Apsnipress news agency.

“This is part of the Georgian side’s attempts to artificially escalate tensions in the region on the eve of the visit of the U.S. secretary of state [who will arrive in Tbilisi later on July 9],” the Abkhaz security service said. “It is obvious that Tbilisi is trying to change the existing [Russian-led] peacekeeping format with the help of its western partners.”

Georgian officials said on July 9 that these incidents, combined with the alleged violation of Georgian airspace by four Russian aircraft over South Ossetia on July 8, were part of a scenario aimed at destabilizing Georgia.

“The Russian Federation is deliberately escalating tension through provocative actions in order to distract the international community’s attention from the real problems,” Eka Tkeshelashvili, the Georgian foreign minister, said.

She said that Russia aimed at thwarting a recent Georgian peace initiative by escalating tension in the conflict zones.

“It is now clear who is the provoker and who wants war,” Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian state minister for reintegration, said. “Add to it the recent statements by Russia and everything is clear. On the one hand, they say that we are the provokers and on the other hand they themselves are staging provocations.”

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