Abkhaz Blasts Draw Dueling Accusations

Georgian officials said there were five explosions near the de facto border between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia on Sunday, in the latest sign of growing tensions between Tbilisi and separatists.

A series of incidents in the past week, involving bombs, mortar shelling and shootouts, have been matched by sharp condemnations from Moscow and Tbilisi, as both sides blame each other for thawing what had been frozen conflicts.

Georgia's rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from central rule during wars in the 1990s and are flash points for tensions with Russia, which provides financial support and has peacekeepers in both.

"Four mines exploded today in the morning near a village called Rukhi, in Georgia's Zugdidi region," Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili said.

The fourth explosion went off under a police car when local officers were investigating the site after the initial blasts, though no one was injured, Utiashvili said.

Georgian television showed the bomb-damaged car and policemen standing nearby.

The fifth bomb went off at another village, also close to the de facto frontier with Abkhazia, with no injuries there either, Utiashvili said.

President Dmitry Medvedev urged Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Saturday to refrain from "stoking tensions" in the separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Medvedev met Saakashvili in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where both were attending observances of the capital's 10th anniversary.

The Kremlin press service said Medvedev "called attention to the impermissibility of inflaming conditions in the region and underlined the necessity of continuing talks."

Medvedev's warning to Saakashvili followed a shootout in South Ossetia.

Ossetia blames Georgian forces for starting a shelling barrage on Friday. South Ossetia's government said two South Ossetian policemen were killed and 11 more people were wounded in shelling of several towns by Georgian forces, Kommersant reported Saturday.

In addition to exchanging fire with South Ossetians, the Georgian military also seized control of a strategic commanding position near the local village of Sarabuk, Kommersant reported. From the heights, the Georgian troops could target most of South Ossetia, according to the daily. The paper said loss of the heights "is unacceptable" for the South Ossetians and they could launch an attack to recover it.

Georgia said its troops fired because separatists attacked them.

Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze said Saturday that "we must not rise to provocations," RIA-Novosti reported.

Tbilisi accuses Moscow of seeking to annex the regions, where the majority of the population holds Russian passports. Moscow denies such plans and, in turn, accuses Tbilisi of seeking to restore control over the provinces by force.

Georgia, which seeks membership of NATO and the European Union, has said it wants to replace Russian peacekeepers currently stationed there with an international force.

The region where the latest explosions took place is under Georgian control but very close to the frontier with the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

A Russian commander in Abkhazia said the uniform of a member of the Georgian special forces was found wrapped around the remains of a shell that had been the source of the blasts, RIA-Novosti reported.

"In the place of the explosion, there remained the uniform," deputy commander Alexander Novitsky said, the agency reported.

AP, Reuters, MT