Rene — Georgia on the brink of civil war

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Georgia on the brink of civil war
Rebel region declares emergency as president threatens force
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Monday April 26, 2004
The Guardian
Georgia was drawn to the brink of civil war yesterday after President
Mikhail Saakashvili threatened to use force against the breakaway
region of Adzharia. Raising the stakes in a simmering feud with the
local strongman Aslan Abashidze, Mr Saakashvili urged the people of
the Black Sea region to defy a curfew and state of emergency ordered
at the weekend by his rival.
He denied suggestions that an invasion of Adzharia was imminent, but
promised to liberate the region from a “criminal regime” – by force if
It was the latest exchange in an acrimonious months-long standoff
between the new Georgian president and the Adzharian chief.
The small but wealthy region has defied Mr Saakashvili’s efforts to
impose stronger central control on unruly Georgian provinces.
Adzharia has been Mr Saakashvili’s most belligerent critic, saying his
nationalist rhetoric betrays his disrespect for the rule of law and
human rights.
Troops and paramilitary police loyal to Mr Abashidze have patrolled
the region and guarded its borders for weeks. Some roads have
reportedly been mined in anticipation of an invasion by Tbilisi.
On Saturday, Mr Abashidze reverted to a state of emergency and curfew,
but Mr Saakashvili urged defiance. “These decisions are illegal, and
therefore I am calling on the people of Adzharia not to obey them,” he
“We are not talking about any invasion of Adzharia, and the local
population will be able to deal with several crazy individuals,” he
said, hinting at early elections for the local administration as a way
of resolving the stand-off.
“We want to solve all the problems in a peaceful way, but no one
should have any doubts that, if Georgia finds itself on the point of
disintegration, the country will without a shadow of a doubt use
weapons to keep its territory intact,” Mr Saakashvili said a day
earlier at a ceremony marking completion of a the first phase of a US
training programme for Georgian troops.
“It is Tbilisi’s duty to liberate the Adzharian people from criminals
and a criminal regime.”
Mr Abashidze has in the past withheld from Tbilisi revenues earned
from the oil conduit port Batumi, and has suppressed political
opponents and kept control through a private army.
But last Friday, the Georgian parliament authorised Mr Saakashvili to
“take legal action” against those violating human rights of Adzharians
and to take steps to disarm “illegal armed groups”.
It was the first time Mr Saakashvili has sought parliamentary
authority to take military action against Adzharia, and prompted
high-level speculation of an invasion.
“We have information that the central [Georgian] authorities are
putting together armed units … to invade Adzharia,” said Adzharian
parliament speaker Georgy Tsintsikladze. “This is a suicidal path,” he
told Interfax.
Mr Abashidze wrote to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the
US president, George Bush, last week to request their help in
preventing conflict.