Fugitive Lieutenant-Colonel Akaki Eliava, leader of the October 1998 military mutiny in western Georgia (see the Monitor, October 20, 21, 23, 1998), threatens to sabotage the western section of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline and to spark a secessionist movement in that area of Georgia if government forces attack his armed detachment. The area, Mingrelia, is considered a stronghold of the supporters of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Eliava’s detachment has wintered in the forests of Mingrelia–safely ensconced there, as some Zviadists would have it, or cornered by security forces and reduced to a handful of fighters, according to the government.
Apparently using Zviadist connections in Tbilisi and elsewhere, Eliava has periodically taunted the government through newspapers and on radio. His latest “ultimatum” appeared in the media on April 4. Some representatives of the authorities described the threats as a bluff. Others–such as Deputy Minister of State Security Simon Nozadze–responded with threats of their own to crack down on the rebels. President Eduard Shevardnadze, however, reinstated his earlier offer–which he had at one stage withdrawn–to guarantee immunity to Eliava and his fighters if they surrender voluntarily. The Baku-Supsa pipeline and the Supsa terminal are due to be officially inaugurated on April 17 in the presence of several heads of state and top executives of oil companies (Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Radio Tbilisi, April 5).
Diehard Zviadists are numerically weak, politically isolated even in Mingrelia, and organizationally factionalized. At least one faction enjoys a haven in Russia and has been involved in antigovernment activities in Georgia. Those activities have included agitation in Mingrelia, disruption of the military, forging a common front with the Moscow-oriented Ajar leader Aslan Abashidze, and suspected participation in attempts on Shevardnadze’s life. These activities also include an effort to create a perception of Georgia as unsafe for international transit.