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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unrest and Chacha in Georgia's Kodor Gorge

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The Soviet-era Antonov airplane creaked and growled its way across the spectacular valleys of the Caucasus mountain range toward the Kodor Gorge, deep within Abkhaz separatist territory. Flying cargo-style with the Georgian police is the only practical way to reach Kodor, which is so remote; it's virtually cut off during bad weather. Along for the ride were a couple of nervous women with their kids, boxes of medicine and an ironing board wrapped in plastic bags.

The Georgian authorities seized control of the upper Kodor Gorge a year ago in what they described as a "police operation," driving out a rebel militia leader. They went on to set up a pro-Georgian Abkhaz government-in-exile in one of the villages nestled within the gorge. The separatists who run the rest of Abkhazia were furious, and peace talks have been stalled ever since.

As the Antonov cleared the last peak by a few meters and touched down in a scrubby field, we were greeted by yet more cops in camouflage. They -- and their automatic rifles -- would be our chaperones for the day. The Georgian authorities insist they're restoring stability here after the militia years, but they're obviously taking no chances.

This is probably wise. One night in March, villagers said they heard helicopters swooping into the gorge, followed by bursts of rocket fire. The speculation is that the choppers rushed in from across the nearby Russian border, although Russia disputes that and a United Nations investigation couldn't prove it.

In the Chkhalta village, the affable head of the loyalist administration, Malkhaz Akishbaia, was waiting for us with glasses of red wine. Western journalists aren't exactly regular visitors around here.

Akishbaia told us the Georgians were starting to provide the essential services that backward Kodor had lacked for years. "We are doing everything to make sure these people live in a civilized society, so no one has a doubt that this is part of Georgia," he said.

The villagers seemed to be thankful, but still a bit wary. Kodor might be beautiful, but it's seen some desperate times in the past years. In the early '90s, many fled through these mountains on foot from the war in Abkhazia, and some died in the cold.

Just up the road, a bottle of chacha, a home-made vodka, swiftly appeared as we dropped in on an elderly man and his family. "A lot of things have changed recently, but the fear remains," he told us. "Weren't we bombed again during the night under this new government?"

As he spoke, his grandchildren kept on playing in the sunshine, seemingly oblivious to the men with Kalashnikovs watching over them.

Matthew Collin is a Tbilisi-based journalist.