Saturday 1 March 2008

Abkhazia announces military mobilization over Georgian 'threats'

The FINANCIAL - According to RIA Novosti, Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh announced on February 29 the partial mobilization of the de facto independent republic's military, citing fears that Georgian troops could cross over into the breakaway region.

"We are coming out with an appropriate response to action on the part of Georgia, which is concentrating its armed forces on the border with Abkhazia," Bagapsh said.

The Abkhazian leader said the situation had escalated following statements by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who promised to use force to liberate a Georgian journalist detained by Abkhaz police. Tensions have also been raised following a recent incident in the Gali district during which an Abkhazian police car was blown up.

Abkhazian presidential spokesman Kristian Bzhaniya said partial mobilization would take place parallel to a large-scale routine military exercise on February 29 - March 4.

Anatoly Zaitsev, the chief of the General Staff, said up to 2,500 soldiers would be involved in the exercise.

Georgian journalist Malkhaz Basilai was arrested in Abkhazia on February 26 while reporting on voting planned for the Russian presidential elections in the breakaway republic. Abkhazian authorities accused him of having illegally crossed into the Abkhazia.

Saakashvili subsequently threatened the use of force to liberate Basilai. Abkhazia then warned Tbilisi against issuing ultimatums.

Last week leaders of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which saw bloody conflicts after they declared independence from Georgia in 1991, said that Kosovo's independence should be taken into account as far as their sovereignty was concerned.

Abkhazia said on February 29 it would seek recognition from Russia and the European Union.

Russia has repeatedly said the recognition of the Balkan region's independence would set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.

Political analysts fear that the declaration of independence by Kosovo, and its subsequent recognition by Western powers, will open up a Pandora's Box of separatist issues in Europe and beyond.

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