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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevardnadze Threatens Rebels With Offensive

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze said Monday that he might order tough military action to end the 11-month conflict with separatists in the western region of Abkhazia.


"If peaceful negotiations do not bring any result, then a Georgian offensive will be inevitable", an exhausted-looking Shevardnadze said at the air-port in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.


The former Soviet foreign minister had just returned from the Abkhazian regional capital of Sukhumi, where he has been since soon after the Abkhazians launched an assault on the town July 2.


Up to 500 people have been killed in fighting between Georgian troops and Abkhazian forces over the last 10 days, according to Georgian officials. At one point it looked as though the Georgians were going to lose Sukhumi.


Fierce fighting continued Monday north of Sukhumi, but Shevardnadze's return to Tbilisi indicates that, for the moment, the city is no longer under threat.


Shevardnadze described the damage done to the Black Sea resort by continued artillery bombardment as a "national tragedy".


Analysts here say a Georgian advance would risk confrontation with Russian troops stationed on former Soviet military bases in the north of the disputed Black Sea region.


Georgia has accused the Russian military of helping the separatists with intelligence and weapons, including fighter-bombers and naval gun-boats.


Shevardnadze may have decided that the risk is worth taking, in the hope that the Russians will not want to become directly involved in fighting with the Georgians.


"I think the Russians have been trying to stay neutral in recent days", Shevardnadze said. But he refused to back the idea of a Russian peacekeeping force in the region, which is what both Moscow and the Abkhazians want.


The U. N. special envoy for Abkhazia, Ambassador Eduard Brunner of Switzerland, is due in Tbilisi to Tuesday to try to organize the deployment of 50 U. N. observers. The Security Council backed the move last Friday.


But the Abkhazian leader, Vladislav Ardzinba, has rejected the introduction of U. N. observers as "an infringement of Abkhazian sovereignty".


The Georgians say more than 3, 000 people have been killed since violence erupted last August after Georgia sent troops on a policing mission to Abkhazia amid stirrings of autonomy.


Shevardnadze declared martial law in the province last Tuesday.