Militants Blow Up Key Rail Bridge; New Ethnic Fighting
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Unidentified militants blew up a key bridge between Armenia and Georgia on Monday, destroying the only remaining rail link between the two former Soviet republics.
Georgian officials blamed the bombing on enemies of Georgia and Armenia. In ethnic unrest since the Soviet breakup, Georgia is fighting a separatist movement and Armenia is fighting Azerbaijan over an enclave. New clashes were reported Monday that left several dead.
The bridge’s destruction could have serious consequences for Armenia. Most supplies sent from Russia to Armenia arrive via Georgia. The alternate route through Azerbaijan was cut off after hostilities began over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
″The bridge was of more importance to Armenia than to Georgia. We can guess that the subversion was done by forces acting against both Georgia and Armenia,″ Interior Ministry spokesman Vladimir Gogolashvili said.
One end of the 148-foot bridge collapsed after the explosion in Georgia’s Marneuli region about 25 miles from Tbilisi, the capital, the ministry said.
In fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, four people were killed and seven wounded in overnight shelling of the Armenian city of Kapan and neighboring villages, according to the Armenian Interior Ministry.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Christian Armenian region within Muslim Azerbaijan, has been the focus of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1988. More than 1,500 people have died in the four-year war, the bloodiest ethnic dispute in the former Soviet Union.
Several villages in the Askeran region, which borders the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert, were also shelled overnight from the vicinity of the Azerbaijani town of Agdam, the enclave’s press center reported. It said the militants used cannon taken from the Caspian fleet.
Ethnic violence also continued to trouble Georgia.
Speaking on national radio, Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze blamed separatist Abkhazian leaders for continued fighting Monday despite a cease- fire reached earlier this month between Georgian and Abkhazian leaders.
According to military commander Badri Pirskhaliani, one Georgian guard was killed and one wounded in the Abkhazian town of Gagra on Monday.
Dozens of people have died and hundreds have been wounded in fighting after Georgia sent troops into the rebellious Abkhazia region on Aug. 13 to secure railroads and other communications.
The troops claimed they were hunting down supporters of ousted Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, but Abkhazian leaders said Georgia was seeking to crush their independence campaign.
Muslim Abkhazians are a minority of about 90,000 people in the region of 500,000, dominated by Christian Georgians. They have been fighting for autonomy with help from Muslim militants from the northern Caucasus regions in Russia.
Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister who helped engineer the end of the Cold War, said would attend a session of the United Nations in New York on Sept. 24-25 to explain what was happening in Georgia to the world community.