Shevardnadze Says Separatists Must Be Crushed by Force
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze said Monday that peaceful attempts to settle a conflict with separatist Abkhazians had failed and indicated Georgia was preparing a major offensive.
Rebels in Abkhazia, a region along the Black Sea in western Georgia, have been battling Georgian troops since mid-August. Scores of people have been killed, and thousands of refugees have fled to neighboring areas in the Caucasus Mountains.
″We must resolve the Abkhazia conflict by military means,″ Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, said on Georgian radio.
″It was very hard for me to come to this conclusion, because my position of conciliation and compromise is well known,″ he said. ″But unfortunately, all chances for a peaceful settlement in Abkhazia have been exhausted.″
Shevardnadze spoke after Georgian troops shelled separatist positions along the Gumista River, and Abkhazians fired on the Georgian-held resort of Sukhumi.
Three civilians were killed Sunday by the artillery fire on Sukhumi, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Four more died Monday when an unmarked aircraft bombed a 16-story apartment building, according to Georgian officials and the Kavkazinform news agency.
In other unrest around the former Soviet Union:
- Shooting continued on the outskirts of Dushanbe, capital of the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan. The civil war pits pro-Islamic and democratic opposition parties against the ruling coalition of Kulyab tribesmen, ethnic Uzbeks and old-style Communists. Both sides accused each other of violating a cease-fire.
- Armenian fighters claimed they had repelled a two-day Azerbaijani attack in the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, site of the bloodiest ethnic conflict in the former Soviet Union. The Armenians said they killed 150 Azerbaijani soldiers, destroyed five tanks and downed a helicopter and an SU- 25 attack jet, ITAR-Tass said. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Shevardnadze sent troops into Abkhazia on Aug. 13 to root out supporters of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Abkhazian leaders said the troops were dispatched to crush their independence campaign, and they organized popular resistance.
″I have come to the conclusion that we must finish the Abkhazian conflict in the shortest way possible, even if it is hard,″ Shevardenadze said.
After Georgia suppresses the separatists, it will hold free elections and provide ″real autonomy″ for Abkhazia, so long as it remains a province of Georgia, he promised.
Ethnic Abkhazians are a minority in their region, which has a total population of about 500,000, including many ethnic Georgians and Russians.
Former Soviet troops, now under Russian control, have evacuated some ethnic Russian vacationers and soldiers’ families. Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials have accused the Russian troops of aiding separatists in the region, which borders Russia.
On Monday, the commander of a Russian battalion in Abkhazia threatened to order aerial bombing of Sukhumi unless Georgian troops stopped shelling the town of Tkvarcheli, 30 miles to the southeast, the Nega news agency said. Georgia’s military denied it was firing on Tkvarcheli.