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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Intervenes in Abkhazia Turmoil

ZUGDIDI, Abkhazia -- Defense Minister Pavel Grachev flew Friday to the breakaway Georgian republic of Abkhazia on the orders of President Boris Yeltsin in a bid to dispel growing tension over a Russian initiative to start the large-scale repatriation of Georgian refugees to the southern Gali region of Abkhazia.

According to Interfax news agency, Grachev met with the Abkhaz leader, Vladislav Ardzinba, and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in the coastal resort town of Novy Afon. Grachev later described the meeting as "constructive", although no specific agreements had been reached.

"It was one more sure step to a peaceful solution of the existing problems," Interfax quoted Grachev as saying after the talks.

The sudden flurry of diplomatic activity follows the hostile reception given by the Abkhazian authorities to a plan announced by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Georgy Kondratyev, to begin returning thousands of Georgians to Gali.

Abkhazian officials, fearing a flood of Georgian refugees crossing into their territory, condemned the Russian initiative as "a provocation," and sent what the Russian Defense Ministry estimated as three thousand armed militia to the 12 kilometer security zone which runs along the Georgian border, according to Itar-Tass.

Kondratyev, clearly reluctant to risk trying to disarm the Abkhazian forces, instead announced that the repatriation process would be postponed until the security of Georgians returning to Gali could be guaranteed.

Georgian refugees waiting at the border crossing angrily condemned the Russian decision, many complaining that Moscow had "deceived" them.

Near the village of Saberio, two kilometers inside Abkhazia, a group of 21 armed Abkhazians took over an abandoned Russian checkpoint on Wednesday, and said they had been given orders to resist any attempt by Russian peacekeepers to disarm them.

The Abkhazian men, angrily condemned Russia's intervention in the region. Referring to Moscow's repatriation initiative, the local commander, who gave only his first name, Aslan, said "yesterday shows there can be no peace -- the Russians just want to help all the Georgians to come back."

Although the Abkhazians insisted they were not "nationalists" and were prepared to accept Georgians on their territory, providing they acknowledged Abkhazian independence, they hurled numerous insults at the Georgians living a few miles away across the Abkhaz "frontier."

One militia man, named Temur, pointed towards a large black sow which had wandered up to the checkpoint and said "that's a Georgian."

The head of the United Nations Observer mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), Brigadier General Jon Hvidegaard, acknowledged the presence of armed Abkhazians inside the security zone, and said "the tension is there because there are a number of refugees who want to return in this non-organized way and the Abkhaz side is objecting."