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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhazia Warns Against Russian Moves

TBILISI, Georgia -- If Russian peacekeeping troops move deeper into the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, the separatists will seek to drive them out of the area altogether, a official said Monday.


Sokrat Dzhindzholia, speaker of the parliament in the breakaway region, said the Abkhazian side would not tolerate an expansion of the "buffer zone'' that currently separates the separatists from the rest of Georgia.


Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in parts of Abkhazia and Georgia since 1994, when separatist fighters in the Black Sea province drove Georgian government forces out.


Russia has now agreed to move the 1,500 peacekeepers deeper into Abkhazia at the request of Georgia. The decision was reached last week at a summit by the Commonwealth of Independent States, which includes most of the former Soviet republics.


But Abkhazia is not part of the group, and Dzhindzholia said that if Russia and Georgia try to push ahead with the plan, the peacekeepers' "further stay in Abkhazia will become impossible.''


The Abkhazians say they must be involved in any decision that would change the role of the peacekeepers.


Since the Russian peacekeepers moved into Abkhazia, there has been no heavy fighting, though there are occasional shootings.


Meanwhile, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who has threatened to kick the Russian peacekeepers out if they do not move deeper into Abkhazia, praised last week's decision and said it would bring benefits to the region.


Shevardnadze, speaking in a radio interview Monday, said the European Union has earmarked a "very serious sum'' for the restoration of Abkhazia.


The president said that if the Russian troops can maintain peace, then "roads and railroads connecting Russia to the Caucasus would be restored. Resort and tourist routes would open.''


Georgia and Russia have agreed to figure out within a month how the peacekeepers' advance is to be accomplished, Shevardnadze said.


Meanwhile, some 2,000 students demonstrated in the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi on Sunday, demanding a pullout of the Russian peacekeepers and vowing not to abide by the summit's decision.


Some Georgian politicians were angered by the decision as well.


"By this decision, the occupation of Georgia by Russian troops is further reinforced,'' said a nationalist party leader Irakly Tsereteli, who, like many other Georgians, believes Abkhazia is part of Georgia. Tsereteli, who also heads the Georgian De-Occupation Committee -- an organization that includes 17 opposition parties -- was on the fifth day of a hunger strike Monday to demand a pullout of the Russian peacekeepers.