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2006_Kodori_crisis

2006 Kodori crisis

The 2006 Kodori crisis erupted in late July 2006 in Georgia’s Kodori Gorge, when a local militia leader declared his disobedience to the government of Georgia, which sent police forces to disarm the rebels. The upper part of Kodori Gorge was at the time the only portion of Abkhazia, Georgia's breakaway republic, not controlled by the Abkhaz de facto authorities.

Background

The Kodori Gorge, with its forested landscapes and rocky hills, lies in the Greater Caucasus mountains, in the northeastern corner of Abkhazia. In spite of several Abkhaz attempts to gain hold of this strategic gorge inhabited by the Svans, a local subgroup of the Georgian people, the upper part of the gorge has never been under the control of the secessionists since the Abkhazian war. It has remained under precarious control of the central Georgian government, but the government of the area has effectively been run, until the recent crisis, by a local authority and warlord Emzar Kvitsiani, who previously led the defense of the gorge against the Abkhaz separatist forces in the capacity of the commander of the local Monadire (literally: a hunter) militia force and an envoy of the former President of Georgia named Eduard Shevardnadze. After the ouster of Shevardnadze in the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003, the new Georgian government disbanded the Monadire force and abolished Kvitsiani's post. There have also been strong suspicions about Kvitsiani's involvement in smuggling and other criminal activities like providing shelter to several criminal authorities, wanted by Georgian police.

July 2006 crisis

The recent crisis started on July 22, 2006, when Kvitsiani re-armed his former militiamen and said, that he defied Georgia’s central authorities and would resist any attempt by the authorities to disarm his militia groups. Attempts to negotiate a surrender went in vain and the militiamen declined an ultimatum sent by the Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. The government of Georgia dispatched, on July 25, a strong detachment of police and security forces to disarm the defiant paramilitary leader. Information coming from the gorge had largely been scarce and unconfirmed as the officials initially refused to make any comment. Later on July 25, Alexandre Lomaia, the Minister of Education and Science, confirmed, that the planned police operation was underway with the aim to restore constitutional order in the Kodori area. According to a Georgian Rustavi 2 television, the rebels have allegedly been supplied with food and munitions by the Abkhaz military and the Russian peacekeeper forces stationed in Abkhazia. Rustavi 2 also reported, that a helicopter of the Russian peacekeepers landed in the Militia-controlled area to provide rebels with food, but has failed to fly back as the Georgian side threatens to down it.

According to official accounts, governmental forces controlled most of the gorge as of late July 26, forcing the surrender of a number of rebels. Others, including Kvitsiani, hide out in the surrounding forests, several wounded and injured were reported on both sides. The death of a civilian in a shootout between the rebels and police was also confirmed. On July 27, Georgia's Defense Minister, Irakli Okruashvili, told in his televised interview, that the main phase of the operation had been successfully completed as most of the rebels had been surrendered or captured. He also said, that the revolt was a provocation planned in a "foreign country."

As of late July 28, all villages in the gorge are controlled by the government forces. A huge amount of weapons and munitions have also been discovered in the gorge. Kvitsiani, according to Georgian claims, managed to escape to Sukhumi, capital of Abkhazia.

Reactions

With the start of the Georgian police operation, the Russian and de facto Abkhaz authorities expressed their concerns about the presence of the Georgian forces in the immediate neighborhood of the conflict zone. The Abkhazian leadership assessed any infiltration of the Kodori Gorge by Georgia's armed units as a gross violation of the agreement on the ceasefire and disengagement of forces of May 14, 1994 and of the May protocol of 1998, according to which the Georgian side had assumed the obligation not to dispatch military in the gorge. Both Russian and Abkhaz officials warned on July 25 and July 26, that the use of force in Kodori might lead to a new conflict in the region. Sergei Bagapsh, the president of de facto Abkhazian government, made comments on the recent events in the Kodori Gorge and said: "If Georgian soldiers cross the border of Abkhazia, a new conflict may be launched, because Abkhazian soldiers will open a fire in that case.

The Georgian authorities deny the accusations, saying, that the only force operating in the gorge are police and security services, that is not a violation of the previous ceasefire accords. They deny the allegations, that the Georgian forces are planning to continue their way into the Secessionist-controlled territories, reiterating, that Georgia plans to resolve the separatist conflicts through peaceful means. On July 26, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Secretary General of NATO, on his meeting with the Georgian premier, Zurab Noghaideli, also expressed his support to Georgia's stance to the problems in Abkhazia and its fellow breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

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