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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK

World: Europe

Georgian rebel soldiers ignore peace plan

A unit of mutinous troops in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has failed to leave the area it seized and return to its garrison, as previously agreed with the government.

There is still confusion over why the agreement broke down. Reports from the town of Khoni say there has been some shooting, with the Georgian defence ministry quoted as saying the rebels had engaged government troops in renewed fighting.

Another report said Georgian troops were refusing to let the rebels leave until they laid down their arms.

The BBC's Andrew Harding in Moscow: "General uprising is unlikely"
The rebels, led by a supporter of the late President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, left their base with tanks and armoured vehicles early on Monday, and advanced on the second largest city, Kutaisi.

They agreed to return after clashes with government troops which left at least one person dead, but gave no word about whether their mutiny had ended.

Pipeline work disrupted

The fighting caused work to be halted on a pipeline from Azerbaijan through western Georgia.

A BBC correspondent says there has been speculation that the unrest is an attempt by outside forces to have the route of the lucrative pipeline diverted. The route of the pipeline, which will carry oil from the Caspian Sea to Western markets, is the subject of a bitter battle Georgia and Russia.

The soldiers seized tanks and armoured vehicles near the western town of Senaki early hours on Monday morning and blocked key roads in the area.

[ image: The soldiers are said to be enemies of President Eduard Shevardnadze]
The soldiers are said to be enemies of President Eduard Shevardnadze
The presidential press office described the soldiers as political enemies of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

The government statement said the rebels were from a unit led by Akaki Eliava, a prominent supporter of the late President Gamsakhurdia.

Mr Eliava was granted amnesty by the Georgian authorities after the Gamsakhurdia revolt.

Georgian television said 100 Eliava supporters from a local barracks had been joined by 50 mutineers from a tank brigade and 50 more from a military airport.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said a group of armed men also seized 15 automatic rifles from a chemical weapons battalion in the western town of Zestaphoni early on Monday. He said he believed the incidents were linked.

Stronghold of Gamsakhurdia supporters

The BBC Moscow correspondent, Andrew Harding, says western Georgia remains the stronghold of supporters of former President Gamsakhurdia, who was overthrown in 1992.

His followers are believed to have been involved in a recent attempt to assassinate current President Shevardnadze.

President Shevardnadze has been struggling to end years of turmoil in the former Soviet republic and has regularly accused forces in neighbouring Russia of trying to undermine his efforts.

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