Breakaway Abkhazia denies sheltering Tbilisi-sought militia head

MOSCOW/TBILISI, July 28 (RIA Novosti) - Abkhazia, a breakaway region in Georgia, denied media reports Friday that a militia head wanted by Tbilisi was hiding on its territory.

Georgian television channel Imedi reported that Emzar Kvitsiani, a former presidential envoy to Abkhazia, was hiding in a village located in the lower, Abkhazian-controlled part of the Kodori Gorge, where Georgia forces conducted an operation this week to capture him. The channel also said that Kvitsiani would be taken to regional capital Sukhumi or another town, Gagra, before leaving Georgia.

"The village of Georgiyevskoye [cited in the report] is located in the Kodori Gorge, in the zone of our control," said Sergei Shamba, the self-proclaimed republic's foreign minister. "But Kvitsiani could not have made it there without passing through our checkpoints."

On Sunday, former presidential envoy Kvitsiani said he refused to recognize Tbilisi's rule in the gorge, which is the de facto border between Abkhazia and Georgia, and its call to disarm his Hunter battalion. Tbilisi responded with a military operation Tuesday to re-establish control over the area. A reward of $55,000 has been offered for information leading to Kvitsiani's capture.

Giorgi Arveladze, Georgia's presidential chief of staff, said Kvitsiani was already in Sukhumi.

"According to Tbilisi's intelligence service ... Emzar Kvitsiani is in Sukhumi," Arveladze said. "Kvitsiani met there with his friend and ally [Deputy Defense Minister] Garri Kupalba."

The Abkhaz foreign minister said Georgia could be using the report about Kvitsiani's alleged presence in Abkhazia as a pretext for an invasion of the republic.

"All the speculation about Kvitsiani hiding on our territory makes us believe that Georgia could exploit it for military intrusion of Abkhazia," Shamba said.

The breakaway region declared independence in 1992, which led to a conflict with Georgia that ended with a ceasefire two years later. Thousands died during the fighting.

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