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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevarnadze warns of escalation of war in Georgia

TBILISI, Georgia -- Fighting by Abhazian separatists in western Georgia could lead to a general war in the northern Caucasus, according to Eduard Shevardnadze, the Georgian leader.

In an interview, Shevardnadze accused Islamic fundamentalists of supporting a general war against Christian Georgia and Armenia.

He said that Georgia was being invaded by Chechens, Muslims who have declared their own republic in a part of Russia adjoining Georgia.

He added that he had evidence that they in turn were being supported by other Islamic forces, but he did not name them.

"I still hope that we shall find political means to settle the conflict", Shevardnadze said on the eve of his departure for the United Nations session in New York.

"There are no problems that cannot be solved between Georgians and Abkhazians. Managing all the internal problems is possible for us, and if the Chechens continue their attacks we will be able to cope with it. But this will cost a lot and many lives will be lost and it will drag into a big war". Shevardnadze said that he would ask the UN to help restore peace in the region and that he would seek military help from Russia if the UN failed to come to his aid.

"The president of Russia is now following a very reasonable policy", Shevardnadze said. "Objectively, Russia is interested in having a good strong neighbor. There are Russian Army units in Tbilisi, and we agreed with Yeltsin, if necessary, to have joint operations of our military and theirs in Abkhazia, to protect trains across the country and to safeguard the bridges, and where necessary to clear the places from invaders".

Lines of communication through Georgia are vital to Armenia, Georgia's Christian neighbor, which is locked in bitter warfare with Muslim Azerbaijan. The Chechen move to support the Abkhazians may be directed at cutting off supplies to Armenia.

In the interview, Shevardnadze said that the separatists had the support of rightist forces in Russian politics, including Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He predicted that there would be attempts to disrupt next month's parliamentary elections in Georgia, in which he is the sole candidate for the leadership.

"Our opponents here are tough people", Shevardnadze said. "But I think the elections will happen. We need them badly. If we don't hold them we will be in chaos and what will be left to us will be either chaos or a dictatorship. and I am no good for a dictatorship".

Robert Haupt is the Moscow correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald.