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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 16:59 GMT
Fashion show near Georgia 'rebel hideout'
Georgian models arrive for the show in the Pankisi Gorge
Soldiers flanked the models
Georgia's leading fashion designer, Maka Assathiany, has launched her first haute couture collection in the Pankisi Gorge, an area reputed to be a hideout for Chechen rebels and comrades-in-arms of Osama Bin Laden.


There is a saying that 'beauty saves the world'

Maka Assathiany
As hundreds of people gathered for the show in a frozen field just outside the town of Duisi, Miss Assathiany - who has boutiques in Paris and Moscow - announced that she wanted to show people in the gorge that life was normal.

Her models - who were accompanied by soldiers bearing Kalashnikov rifles - appeared on a makeshift catwalk in metallic outfits, one of which featured six breasts.

The Pankisi Gorge bordering the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya is reported to be largely lawless, with the Georgian Government wielding little authority.

The United States last month announced it was sending special forces to Georgia to help bring the region under control.

'Normal'

The parade was held just in front of the last Georgian police checkpoint inside the gorge.


I don't know what this is all about but it's something different for us

Pankisi resident
Emerging from the tent which served as a changing room, seven models glided down a makeshift catwalk - a mock roadblock, complete with real soldiers, as well as two armoured personnel carriers.

Wearing metallic dresses with tails and wings, fake-fur kimonos and tall black hats with ear flaps, the models posed as Kalashnikov-bearing troops stood by.

"There is a saying that 'beauty saves the world'," said Miss Assathiany. "I wanted to show people here that life is normal."

Georgian model on the Pankisi catwalk
The fashion parade was an attempt to show life was normal in Pankisi
Dressed in camouflage fatigues, she said the clothes were "very emotional".

"We needed a hot place like this, like Pankisi."

Around 300 local villagers came to see the show with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.

"I don't know what this is all about but it's something different for us," said 54-year-old Tariel, an unemployed man from a nearby village.

US troops

The fashion parade had the blessing of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

One of his advisers, Soso Tkebuchava, said it showed that the Georgian authorities had the situation under control.

Chechen guerrillas
Moscow says Chechen guerrillas are hiding in the Pankisi Gorge
But both the US and Russia believe that al-Qaeda suspects may be hiding in the gorge area, alongside Chechen rebels.

Last month, the US sent five military advisers and at least six helicopters as part of an advance group of up to 200 special forces to train the Georgian army in how to counter militant activity.

Russia, which has traditionally regarded Georgia as part of its sphere of influence, has criticised the US involvement.

See also:

27 Feb 02 | Europe
US role in Georgia alarms Russia
31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
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