Georgia’s law enforcement agencies announced yesterday that they are holding eleven suspects in the assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze. Most are both supporters of the late president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and natives of the Zugdidi area in western Georgia — a former stronghold of Gamsakhurdia. The group includes Gennady Kobalia, a relative of Loti Kobalia, the imprisoned former commander of Gamsakhurdia’s forces in western Georgia.
At a joint news conference announcing the arrests, Georgian Chief Prosecutor Jamlet Babilashvili, Internal Affairs Minister Kakha Targamadze and State Security Minister Jemal Gahokidze stressed that those arrested were among the executors, but not the organizers of the February 9 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze. The organizers are outside the country, the officials said. They declared that Russia’s offer to assist the investigation would be welcome "to the extent to which Moscow hands over the terrorists who may be sheltered in Russia." They also paid tribute to the "U.S. investigative team and its invaluable assistance to the investigation in Georgia."
Also yesterday, in the town of Zugdidi, a group of some twenty heavily armed Zviadists kidnapped four officers of the UN Military Observers Mission and six Georgians, and are holding them hostage in a nearby village. The UN observers are a Swede, a Czech and two Uruguayans. The captors demand the release from prison of "political prisoners" — a reference to fellow-Zviadists sentenced in criminal trials — and of the eleven arrested as suspects in the assassination attempt on Shevardnadze. They also demand the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Georgia.
Russia’s state-controlled ORT Television last night interviewed the commander of the hostage-taking group inside the house where the group is holed up. Georgian intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani, who is negotiating with the captors at the scene, pointed out that the hostage seizure took place in the zone or responsibility of Russian "peacekeepers" in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict theater. (Georgian, Russian and Western agencies, February 19)