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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK
Abkhaz planes 'bomb Georgian forces'
Map of Georgia
The authorities in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia say they have carried out air strikes against Georgian and Chechen guerrillas who have taken up positions in a mountain gorge.

The announcement came hours after Georgia said it was sending troops to the area, the Kodori Gorge, a move which the Abkhaz leadership denounced as a "step towards war".

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is coming under growing pressure to make a tough response

BBC correspondent Rob Parsons
Interfax news agency quoted an Abkhaz defence spokesman, Garry Kupalba, as saying "The terrorists suffered heavy losses."

The two sides have been in a state of suspended conflict since 1993, when Abkhaz separatists, backed by Russian forces, succeeded in driving the Georgian army out of the province.

The Kodori Gorge is a lawless area, nominally still under Georgian control.

Abkhaz authorities say Georgian and Chechen guerrillas have carried out raids on Abkhaz villages after penetrating the gorge in recent days.

Georgia, in turn, says unmarked planes have carried out air raids against Georgian villages in the area.

Russia accused

Announcing the deployment of troops to the Kodori Gorge, the Georgian Defence Ministry said it was the government's duty to defend Georgians living in the area.

Abkhaz separatists in Sukhumi, 1993
Abkhaz separatists won de facto independence in a 1992-93 war

Georgia claims it has evidence that attacks on Georgian villages were carried out by planes from Russia - something Moscow categorically denies.

The Abkhaz have countered that the Georgian troops are being sent to support the Georgian and Chechen guerrillas in the area.

Georgia, they said, was encouraging terrorism.

The BBC's Moscow correspondent, Robert Parsons, says Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is coming under growing pressure to make a tough response.

The 250,000 Georgian refugees from the last Abkhaz conflict are demanding a full-scale mobilisation and the withdrawal of Russian peace-keeping troops from Abkhazia.

Georgia maintains the troops have failed in their task and are encouraging Abkhaz separatism.

Russia, though, blames Georgia and says the Georgian Government no longer controls the situation on its own territory.

The BBC's Rob Parsons
"Eduard Shevardnadze is coming under growing pressure to make a tough response"
See also:

13 Oct 99 | Europe
UN observers abducted in Abkhazia
05 Jun 01 | Europe
Timeline: Georgia
16 Mar 00 | Europe
The Caucasus: Troubled borderland
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