Russia concerned over Georgia clashes near its border - Ivanov

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Russia is concerned about how a conflict in a turbulent area in the north of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia might develop, the defense minister said Wednesday.
RYAZAN REGION, July 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is concerned about how a conflict in a turbulent area in the north of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia might develop, the defense minister said Wednesday.

The Georgian authorities launched a special operation Tuesday night in the Kodori Gorge, the only Tbilisi-controlled area in northern Abkhazia near the Russian border, after a local militia leader announced he no longer recognized Tbilisi's authority.

"Another conflict is developing in the immediate vicinity of our border and it is a cause of major concern," said Sergei Ivanov, who is also a deputy prime minister.

He said the situation in the Kodori Gorge had suddenly escalated.

"Georgia is obviously violating an agreement it signed in 1994 that no armed people can be deployed in the north of the Kodori Gorge," Ivanov said, referring to a Moscow ceasefire and disengagement agreement.

He said Russia was concerned about weapons arriving in the area and armed clashes between the Georgians and Svans, the historical residents of northern Kodori.

"Yesterday, the 107th [border] post witnessed armed clashes between the Svans and Georgians," Ivanov said. "Today, several Georgian helicopters, including the U.S.-made Iroquois [UH-1 Huey] helicopters, landed at the site, which cannot but alarm [Russia]."

The Georgian Interior Ministry said earlier Wednesday that a column of vehicles with some 100 troops had been dispatched to the Kodori Gorge to continue the operation to hunt down Emzar Kvitsiani, a former presidential envoy to the gorge, and his supporters.

Ivanov said Russian peacekeepers had found themselves between the two combatant sides.

"For obvious reasons, Abkhazia has advanced its armed forces and now two Russian peacekeeping posts are stuck between a rock and a hard place, or the Abkhazian and Georgian forces," he said.

But the minister promised that the peacekeepers would go on with their mission, which had been approved by all the parties in the conflict in ceasefire agreements.

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