Shootout between Georgian and Russian troops
By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, November 21
Heavy shooting was reported at the administrative border of Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia on November 20. The Georgian Interior Ministry says none of the policemen at the border were injured.
According to information held by the Ministry a group of armed men, accompanied by two armoured vehicles, came out of the Russian military base in the village of Otobaia early in the morning of November 20. The troops crossed the administrative border and opened fire towards the Georgian police post in Ganmukhuri village. During the shootout the attackers used machine guns and grenade launchers. The Georgian Ministry’s Press Service reports that buildings in the village were damaged. The Georgian side opened fire in response, after which the shootout stopped and the troops returned to the territory of the separatist region. The Georgian side states that they mined a nearby location on the way back.
Several hours after this incident a second shootout began, the police post in Ganmukhuri being shelled from the Russian base. The Ministry says that during this incident Russian helicopters conducted flights over Georgian territory. The Press Service states that UN observers witnessed the shelling and tried to negotiate with the Russian troops, however they were not allowed to enter the separatist controlled territory, as is usual.
Russian forces deny Georgia’s claims. Deputy Head of Russian Infantry Forces Igor Konashenkov, quoted by Russian news agency Interfax, said that the Georgian reports “absolutely don’t correspond to the reality and are to be considered as more information provocations by the Georgian side against the Russian military.” The participation of Russian troops in the Ganmukhuri shootout has been ruled out by the separatist authorities as well. According to a statement of the de facto Abkhaz Ministry of Defence, separatist forces had noticed a “group of 15 Georgian saboteurs” on the territory of Abkhazia and conducted an operation to liquidate then. The so-called Minister of Defence of the separatist Government, Merab Kishmaria, stated that three Georgian soldiers were killed by Abkhaz fire.
“I gave the order for three of our armed vehicles to open fire. After some time the Georgian police tried to shoot at the Abkhazians again but after warning fire they calmed down,” said Kishmaria, quoted by RIA-Novosti on November 20. He rejected the information about helicopters flying over Georgian positions.
The Georgian media reports that due to the incident, schools in the area have been closed. Locals fear that Russian troops may be planning to occupy the recently liberated areas again. A group of Georgian de-miners is working near Ganmukhuri, looking for left over land mines. The EU monitoring mission is observing the process of mine deactivation.
Armed confrontations are happening on a regular basis in the conflict zones, mostly near the borders of Georgia’s breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The day before the Ganmukhuri shootout an employee of breakaway South Ossetia’s Prosecutor’s Office was badly wounded in gunfire at the administrative border. The South Ossetian separatist’s official Press Service reported that a group of investigators from the Prosecutor’s Office arrived in the village of Ksuisi at the border to investigate the reported murder of a local resident. It said that the group’s vehicle came under fire from the neighbouring village of Mereti on the Georgian side of the administrative border. The injured man, according to this report, was later hospitalized in Russian province of North Ossetia.