Military operation of the Abkhaz forces to capture the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge may start on Sunday morning, UN senor official has warned.
“Our UNOMIG military observers report ongoing military preparation by the Abkhaz de facto authorities for the military operation in the upper Kodori Valley, probably tomorrow morning, already shelling is taking place in that region,” Edmond Mulet, the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, said.
He was speaking with journalists after briefing the UN Security Council about the situation in Abkhazia, amid clashes between Georgian and Russian troops in South Ossetia.
Mulet said the UN office in the Abkhaz capital Sokhumi received a phone call from the breakaway region’s authorities at 9:30am on August 9 asking them to pull out their 15 military observers from upper Kodori Gorge.
“When asked what the reason was for this, they said they could go further in explanations,” the UN diplomat said. “After what we saw what happened with OSCE observers in South Ossetia, who were caught in crossfire, so the decision was taken to withdraw our patrol from the upper Kodori Valley.”
The Georgian authorities said the upper Kodori Gorge came under bombardment for several times on Saturday. Tbilisi has also claimed that the gorge was bombed by Russian military aircraft.
Abkhaz officials have confirmed that they opened artillery fire in direction of the Georgian positions in the upper Kodori, but denied the Russian involvement claiming that the Abkhaz aircraft were carrying out air strikes.
President Saakashvili said on August 9 that the Georgian security forces in the gorge “repelled several attacks.”
Kristian Bzhania, a spokesman for the Abkhaz leader, however, said that the Abkhaz ground forces were not yet involved in the operation.
He also said that “distracting of the Georgian forces from South Ossetia” was one of the goals of the operation. The two breakaway regions have a bilateral agreement on mutual cooperation, including in defense and security issues.
Sergey Shamba, the breakaway region’s foreign minister, said earlier on August 9 that the operation aimed at “drive Georgian forces out of the upper Kodori Gorge.”
Abkhaz officials also said that the peaceful population of the gorge was provided with humanitarian corridor to let them leave the area.