Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 102

The cease-fire and disengagement of forces in Gali district took definitive hold yesterday amid evidence of a total Abkhaz victory and a new round of ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians. Russian Television reported last night from the scene that the Abkhaz had used not only their Internal Ministry troops, but also tanks and heavy artillery, some of whose crewmen were interviewed on the air. The report substantiates Tbilisi’s accusations that Russian “peacekeeping” troops, in violation of their mandate, had allowed the Abkhaz to bring and use the hardware in the demilitarized zone. Moreover, the hardware itself can only have originated from Russian arsenals, either since the 1992-94 war or through some more recent transfers.

On May 26 and 27, Russian TV and other media correspondents reported from the area that Abkhaz forces are setting fire to Georgian houses in the recaptured villages. The apparent purpose is to preclude the return of Georgian residents, at least 30,000 of whom have fled across the Inguri river to Georgian-controlled territory. That deliberate destruction would seem to nullify the cease-fire agreement’s stipulation that the newly displaced Georgians are to return to their homes following the disengagement of forces. From the Georgian-controlled territory outside Abkhazia, large clouds of smoke are seen rising over Gali district despite the end of the fighting.

In another step aimed at precluding the refugees’ return, the Abkhaz authorities have imposed strict regulations for crossing the “border” with individual permits only. The Abkhaz side has also beefed up Internal Affairs troops in Gali district and introduced Defense Ministry’s troops (with hardware) in the adjacent Ochamchira district.

The Georgian rout seems complete, despite Tbilisi’s May 24 move to send some Internal Affairs units to support the Georgian guerrillas. The Abkhaz sent in their armor and artillery, and at that point Tbilisi backed down. President Eduard Shevardnadze and other officials decided against sending their Army troops and sued for peace instead. (Russian and international agencies, May 26-27)