Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasily Nesterushkin yesterday demanded that Tbilisi "undertake necessary measures for the immediate release" of three Russian paratroopers — two captains and a private — held hostage since August 16 by a Georgian group of anti-Abkhaz guerrillas. The three Russians belong to the 345th paratroop regiment, permanently based at Gudauta in Abkhazia and assigned to the "peacekeeping" forces. Georgia’s first deputy minister of state security, Avtandil Ioseliani, has been negotiating with the captors. (Russian agencies, August 21)
The Georgian guerrilla group White Legion issued a statement, reported by Georgian TV last night, in which it claimed responsibility for holding the Russian paratroopers. The group is offering to trade them for the bodies of two Georgians killed by Abkhaz security in a recent skirmish. (Russian agencies, August 22) The shadowy White Legion consists at least partly of Georgian expellees from Abkhazia who engage in hit-and-run attacks on Abkhaz military, police, and economic targets. Abkhazia accuses Tbilisi’s State Security Ministry of arming and training the White Legion. The ministry has purposely maintained a degree of ambiguity over its possible role.