At least five Russian soldiers were killed by a remote-control land mine on July 12 in Abkhazia’s Gali district. The soldiers were patrolling an area where Georgian guerrillas challenge Abkhaz control. Although the perpetrators were not identified, Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the Russian military command joined the Abkhaz authorities in blaming “Georgian bandit groups” and threatening “severe retaliation.” The two Russian statements also accused Georgia of violating the May 25 cease-fire agreement, which stipulates measures against “terrorist groups”–the Russian and Abkhaz designation of Georgian guerrillas.
Georgia’s Foreign Ministry countered by accusing the Russian “peacekeeping” forces of acting in practice as “border troops” for Abkhazia, condoning the ethnic cleansing there, and following “a policy of encouragement of Abkhaz separatism.” (Russian agencies, July 13)
The timing of the deadly incident is doubly significant. It almost seems made to order to disrupt the Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations which have just begun, against a July 16 deadline, regarding the transfer of border control from Russian to Georgian forces. Georgia has initiated those negotiations with an uninterested and threatening Abkhazia. Moreover, the operating authorization of Russian “peacekeeping” forces is due to expire on July 31 unless renewed by that deadline.
AZERBAIJAN CHANGES LAW ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS TO ACCOMMODATE THE OPPOSITION.