Georgian villagers say expelled from rebel region

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at
Fri Feb 27 15:00:05 UTC 2009

February 27, 2009

By Matt Robinson

Georgia said on Friday separatist forces in the Russian-backed  
breakaway region of Abkhazia had expelled dozens of Georgian families  
overnight but the Abkhaz authorities dismissed the accusation.

Unarmed European Union ceasefire monitors said at least 40 Georgians  
from the village of Otobaia had camped outside overnight on the de  
facto Abkhaz border. An Abkhaz official denied the accusation.

"They tell us they have been evicted from their homes," an EU mission  
spokeswoman said. The villagers said they had been "driven into the  
woods by Abkhaz militias."

Otobaia lies in Abkhazia's eastern Gali region, home to a large ethnic  
Georgian community that complains of discrimination.

Tensions over Georgia's breakaway, pro-Russian regions erupted in a  
five-day war last August in which Russian forces smashed a Georgian  
assault on another rebel province, South Ossetia.

The Georgian Interior Ministry said around 50 families were forced  
from Otobaia by Abkhaz forces searching for a resident of the village.

"They went house-to-house and told them to leave and not to come back  
until they hand him over," Interior Ministry spokesman Shota  
Utiashvili said.

Russia has recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent  
states, and has thousands of troops in both regions.

Utiashvili said the man being searched for was in hospital in Georgia  
after being shot by Abkhaz forces.

Asked about the accusations, the Abkhaz government's Gali  
representative Ruslan Kishmaria told Reuters: "It's rubbish. Nothing  
happened there."

The EU monitors are denied access to both rebel regions.

The Georgian interior ministry also accused Russian forces of sending  
heavy armour to the Gali region.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted an Abkhaz security official as  
saying a regular rotation of Russian forces was under way near the  
boundary line.

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