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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhazia: 14 Killed In Raid by Guerrillas

TBILISI, Georgia -- Officials in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region said Tuesday a group of Chechen and Georgian fighters had raided a village in the province and killed 14 people, and accused Georgia of bombing three villages.

The leader of Abkhazia ordered a partial military mobilization of his forces Tuesday to respond to the raids.

A Georgian official denied his nation's involvement and said a helicopter had entered Abkhazia from Russia and bombed the three villages.

"There were no injuries. But in any case, our reaction will be severe," Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze warned on state television.

Russia's air force denied responsibility, the Interfax-Military News Agency reported.

Tensions were at a new high in the Black Sea province in western Georgia following the downing Monday of a helicopter carrying four UN observers, four crew members and a translator.

Abkhaz officials blamed Chechen and Georgian fighters, who they claim invaded the Kodor Gorge region of Abkhazia last week. Russia blamed Georgia for letting what it termed "bandits" and "terrorists" travel through its territory.

"Now it's becoming absolutely clear that the Georgian leadership either doesn't control the situation on its own territory or is manipulating the terrorists with its own goals," Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Moscow.

Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba decreed a partial mobilization of the province's armed forces to fight "Georgian military formations," deputy presidential spokesman Roin Agrba said. Other Abkhaz officials said 400 to 500 fighters were in Abkhazia, including Chechens and Arabs.

In Tbilisi, David Shengelia, leader of Georgian guerrillas who have been active in Abkhazia, said his loyalists were not involved. Those fighting in Abkhazia were "people from northern Caucasus," where Chechnya is located, he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, called on the UN Security Council to "carefully monitor" developments in Abkhazia and secure Georgian agreement to halt the movement of illegal groups on its territory. Interfax quoted Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky as saying the situation in Abkhazia arouses "growing concern."

Abkhaz separatists drove out Georgian forces in a 1992-93 war that ended in a cease-fire and de facto independence. A political solution has not been reached, and clashes and bombings have continued despite the presence of Russian peacekeepers.

In the Soviet period, Abkhazia was an autonomous republic within Georgia. When Georgia gained independence following the 1991 Soviet collapse, Abkhazia remained within its borders. No country has recognized the Abkhaz 1993 declaration of independence, which both Russia and Georgia have opposed.

The UN had resumed military monitoring only recently, after its representatives in the region were kidnapped in December.

Abkhaz officials claim a group of Chechen rebels and ethnic Georgian fighters had invaded the Kodor Gorge region of Abkhazia in recent days. Late Monday, they said the group, allegedly numbering 400 to 500 people, had been blocked in the gorge by Abkhaz forces.

Martin Tarkil, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the self-declared Abkhaz government, said Chechen and Georgian terrorists had raided the village of Noa overnight and killed 14 local residents.

"Fighting is going on now," he said.

Georgia has denied any involvement in the fighting.

Kakha Dolidze, spokesman for the Georgian State Border Service, said an unknown helicopter had launched several bombs toward three villages inhabited by Georgians in the Kodor Gorge. He said the helicopter, according to some reports, had come from the Sakeni district in the neighboring Karachayevo-Cherkessia region of Russia.

There was no information on casualties or damage from the bombing.

The Abkhaz foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, said authorities had received offers of assistance from Russian volunteers including Cossacks, Interfax reported.

Georgia has yet to publicly confirm the presence of Chechen fighters on Abkhaz territory. It has denied Russian and Abkhaz allegations it has allowed Chechen rebels to take refuge on its territory, though it has permitted refugees from the region's two wars to live there. Georgia is the only foreign country that borders Chechnya.