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Georgia conducts military operation in Kodori - CIS peacekeepers

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Georgia is conducting a military rather than police operation in the Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping force in the region said Wednesday.
MOSCOW, July 26 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia is conducting a military rather than police operation in the Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping force in the region said Wednesday.

Georgia's Interior Ministry said a column of vehicles with some 100 people had been dispatched to the gorge early Wednesday to continue an operation launched Tuesday night to detain the head of a militia and his supporters who have refused to recognize the Tbilisi authorities.

But Russian general Sergei Chaban said the operation to arrest former presidential envoy Emzar Kvitsiani and members of his Hunter battalion was not what the Georgians claimed.

"It is not a police but military operation," he said in a charge which brought a blunt response from a senior source in the Georgian government.

"We are not conducting a military operation in Kodori," said the source, who preferred to remain anonymous. "Constitutional order is being restored there through a standard special operation. Such operations are carried out all over the world against criminal elements, when a criminal threatens a country's constitutional order."

He said the operation would end either later Wednesday or Thursday and confirmed that three servicemen had been wounded.

Chaban said that Georgia was massing troops in the gorge, which was divided after the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-1993. The lower part is controlled by Abkhazia and the upper part by Georgia.

"At 8:50 a.m. (4:50 a.m. GMT), a convoy of 10 KAMAZ trucks, four ZIL trucks, and four ambulances passed through peacekeeping outposts accompanied by a helicopter," he said.

The general also said the troops were dressed in uniforms worn by Georgian soldiers in Iraq.

The operation started two days after Kvitsiani said he did not recognize Tbilisi's rule. He said Georgian troops were moving to the area to disarm former members of his Hunter border guard battalion, which was formally disbanded in 2005, though most members refused to lay down their arms.

Some sources said Kvitsiani and his militia were still in the gorge, though Georgian television reported Tuesday that he had fled for breakaway Abkhazia, in northwestern Georgia. Sultan Sosnaliyev, the Abkhazian defense minister, denied the reports.

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