Friday, July 20, 2007, #137 (1404)

Kodori Gorge Shelling Good for Tbilisi, Russia Says
By Ana Kvrivishvili

The March attack on Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on July 18, favored Georgia’s political interests.

The Russian ministry’s statement accused Tbilisi of making “deliberate” moves to strain the situation in separatist Abkhazia, creating an opportunity to strengthen Georgia’s hand there.

Russia’s strong reaction “surprised” Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli. The minister questioned the aggressiveness of Moscow’s statement, especially given, the minister said, that the UNOMIG report doesn’t claim that Russian helicopters were involved in the Kodori incident.

Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze went further, saying that Russia incriminates itself by attempting to cast blame on Tbilisi.

“With this statement Russia has only confirmed our suspicions,” Burjanadze said.

The UNOMIG report, released July 12, strongly implies the presence of Russian helicopters the night of the attack on a Georgian administrative building in Chkhalta village, but stops short of drawing definitive conclusions.

By the report’s account, the building was hit by a Russian-produced anti-tank missile which would have been impossible or highly difficult to launch from the ground.

Meteorological and air traffic reports ruled out helicopters flying in from Georgian-controlled territory to the south. The group compiling the report requested that Russia share air traffic records covering their territory to the north, but Moscow declined to do so. There were no flights then, Russian officials said, so there are no records.

Russian, Abkhaz, Georgia and UNOMIG representatives worked together on the report, limiting the political feasibility of damning conclusions.

The US State Department, for its part, praised Georgian authorities for demonstrating restraint during the attack and for its full cooperation with investigators.

The US statement appealed for the conflict sides to move forward with resolution talks by following the recommendations of the UN Group of Friends, including direct dialogues at the highest levels.

“We hope those measures will lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict within Georgia’s internationally-recognized borders, respecting Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for the UN to establish an observation point in upper Kodori Gorge.

“As a measure to avoid further provocations in the future, the Georgian side recommends establishing a permanent presence of UNOMIG Team Base in the village of Azhara, upper Kodori Gorge, which would be duly equipped, including with artillery radars and unmanned aerial vehicles, to control the airspace,” the ministry’s statement says.

De facto Abkhazian foreign minister Sergey Shamba said his government opposed any UNOMIG post in the Kodori Gorge.

“We don’t need any observers there, who will only serve guarantee presence of autonomous structures in the upper Kodori Gorge,” Shamba said, speaking to the Abkhaz TV station Abaza.
An observation post may be acceptable, Shamba said, if the Tbilisi-backed government-in-exile leaves the Gorge.

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