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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Massive Army Maneuvers Take Spotlight in Georgia

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia has began two weeks of major military maneuvers, coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the fall of the capital of the breakaway Abkhaz region to separatist forces.


More than 30,000 Georgian troops, including air defense and navy, are participating in the maneuvers, the organizers said.


"These maneuvers are the biggest since Georgia gained independence in 1991 and all arms of the service are taking part," a high-ranking Georgian commander said Saturday.


Zurab Meparishvili, commander in charge of the military exercises, said that the maneuvers would continue until Oct. 11 in various regions of Georgia.


Their start coincided with the fall of the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi on Sept. 27, 1993. Georgian troops were routed by pro-independence Abkhaz-led fighters in the west of the country after a year of civil war that killed an estimated 10,000 people.


Meparishvili, who said most Georgian armaments were made in Soviet times and given to Georgia as a military legacy after the collapse of the Soviet Union six years ago, said the start date was sheer coincidence.


Earlier this year, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Georgia could try to retake lost land by force if needed.


"The armed forces of Georgia are not the same ones we had in 1992-93. If the Abkhaz open fire, then that means suicide for them," Shevardnadze said on May 26, the anniversary of Georgian independence.


But Saturday, Shevardnadze took a much more conciliatory line when, at a military cemetery, he honored the memory of Georgian soldiers who died in the bitter war four years ago.


"The war was the tragedy for both Georgians and Abkhaz. Our reconciliation and our joint peaceful life would be the best monument for those who died in the war," he said.


Officials in Abkhazia, a subtropical resort region favored by the Communist elite in Soviet times and largely cut off from the rest of Georgia since the war ended in 1993, were not immediately available for comment on the maneuvers.


Meanwhile, a land mine and a bomb killed four people and wounded one in Abkhazia and a neighboring area in western Georgia, officials said Monday.


A family of four died when their car hit a mine in the Ghali region of Abkhazia on Saturday, said Teimur Murgulia, Georgia's deputy interior minister.


The victims were ethnic Georgians, who fled the region when the Abkhaz separatists drove the Georgian troops out of the province in the fall of 1993. The family came back only recently.


Two other bombs ripped through the city of Zugdidi in western Georgia close to the border with Abkhazia on Sunday. One exploded at a street market in the late afternoon, but no one was injured. Another one went off on a train as it was about to leave for Tbilisi, wounding a 18-year old girl, whose leg was later amputated.


No one claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. Murgulia said Abkhaz separatist fighters were suspected of being involved, though he offered no evidence.