Updated reports have raised to seventeen (from the initially reported thirteen) the number of Abkhaz troopers killed in the May 18 clash with Georgian Forest Brothers in the village of Repi, Gali district. The fighting was the bloodiest in the recent series of clashes in Abkhazia. Georgia’s State Security Minister Jemal Gakhokidze restated yesterday that official Tbilisi has “no connection with the guerrilla movement.” However, Gakhokidze warned that failing a political settlement of the conflict, “the guerrilla movement will grow.” (Prime News, Russian agencies, May 18 and 19; and see the Monitor, May 19).
Georgian guerrilla operations in Abkhazia have noticeably grown in scope and effectiveness in recent weeks (see The Monitor, May 4, 12, 15). Official expressions of political and moral support have not been lacking. Whatever the real impetus behind the escalation, the operations do not mean that Tbilisi is switching from political to military methods. Any covert operations in Abkhazia can at this stage only serve as an auxiliary to the political and diplomatic track in Tbilisi’s policy. The government wants to bring the Abkhaz leadership to the negotiating table in order to discuss the region’s future status in a federalized Georgia. The Abkhaz leaders face the prospect of attrition of their territory if they continue refusing such negotiations. Intense fighting is again being reported from Abkhazia today. (Itar-Tass, May 20).