. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tbilisi Warns a Defiant Adzharia

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned on Monday that he would reintroduce sanctions against the defiant Adzharia region if its leader reneges on his pledge to bow to central authorities.

Saakashvili insisted that Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze allow Georgian government representatives to oversee the region's customs operations.

"If my representatives aren't put at customs, I will restore the blockade on cargo transport in two days," Saakashvili said in comments carried by Georgia's Rustavi 2 television.

Saakashvili imposed the blockade and other sanctions against Adzharia last week, but lifted them after Abashidze pledged to let Tbilisi control the port in Batumi, the capital, and the regional customs service, the region's key sources of revenue. Under Abashidze's leadership, Adzharia has pocketed proceeds from customs and cargo transit, refusing to share them with the central government.

As Saakashvili ordered the blockade lifted, Abashidze pledged to lift the state of emergency he had introduced in the region.

However, he introduced new conditions for lifting the state of emergency in a televised address late Sunday, saying that the Georgian authorities first must name his representatives to the seaport of Poti, near Adzharia, and the customs office in Vale, on the border with Turkey.

Abashidze also demanded that the Georgian authorities close a criminal probe against Adzharian officials accused of disobeying the central government and renew a license for a commercial bank that had been suspended by Tbilisi.

"If someone is searching for a way not to implement the agreement, it's up to him," Saakashvili said. "But I wasn't joking."

Saakashvili said last week after talks with Abashidze that the Adzharian leader had pledged to allow free and fair voting in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Abashidze said Sunday that the 80,000 ballots sent to the province weren't sufficient and urged the Georgian government to provide 50,000 more.

Abashidze didn't say how many eligible voters Adzharia has. The Georgian authorities have accused his government of rigging the results of previous votes in the province in his favor.

Simmering tensions between Georgia and Adzharia heightened a week ago, when Abashidze supporters barred Saakashvili from entering the region. Hundreds of militants massed on the Adzharian side of the provincial border, blocked by dump trucks and armored personnel carriers, claiming they were ready to repel an incursion.

The tensions raised fears of an outbreak of violence like the wars that raged when two other Georgian provinces -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- broke away in the early 1990s.