Unusually intense fighting between Abkhaz forces and Georgian guerrillas (see the Monitor, May 20) continued in Gali district yesterday. By the end of the day the Georgian force was said to have “dug in” in several villages it controls. Dozens were reported killed, each side claiming that it suffered fewer casualties than the opponent.
According to the official Abkhaz version, the fighting began on May 19 when Abkhaz Internal Ministry troops were ambushed while “reconnoitering” two villages held by a 300-strong Georgian guerrilla force. The Abkhaz had recently sent supplementary interior troops to Gali district and committed more troops yesterday. Additionally, they announced that they alerted their army and deployed its units yesterday near Gali district for possible intervention.
Tbilisi described the Abkhaz operation as one of “reprisals” against Georgian villages, and the guerrilla presence as aiming to protect local Georgians who had returned to their homes. According to Tbilisi, the Abkhaz force took 10 civilians hostage before the Georgians counterattacked. Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili pointed to the “ineffectiveness” of Russian “peacekeeping” forces, who have proven “either unable or unwilling to stop the reprisals” against the villages.
Russia has a 1,600-strong military contingent in the region. The Russian command issued a statement justifying the Abkhaz operation as “aiming to clean the territory of bandit detachments and criminal elements.” (Russian and Western agencies, May 20 and 21)
TURKMEN PRESIDENT DISTANCES HIS COUNTRY FROM RUSSIAN-LED TROIKA.