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Saakashvili in Kodori Pledges More Rehabilitation after ‘Barbaric’ Attacks

President Saakashvili paid a two-hour visit to Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia on March 14, less than three days after the area was reportedly attacked by Russian army helicopters.

President Saakashvili visited the headquarters of the Abkhaz government-in-exile in the village of Chkhalta, which was damaged as a result of the shelling. He then met with the local population.

“I want all of you to know that any attempt to capture Upper Abkhazia will lead to the rising of all of Georgia, five million people, as one. We have enough resources to defend this territory,” Saakashvili told local residents.

“No one will ever be able to make Georgia kneel down,” he added.

He also said that the pace of the rehabilitation process will be redoubled in the gorge as Georgia’s response to the attacks, which he described as “barbaric.”

“If someone closes down its borders, we will get access to other borders; if someone closes its air space to us, we will fly to other destinations as we build new airports; if someone closes its markets to us, we will produce better products and get access to other markets,” Saakashvili said, referring to Russia’s economic sanctions on Georgia.

Georgian officials claim that the shelling of upper Kodori Gorge by Abkhaz forces from the land late on March 11 was supported by at least three Russian combat helicopters.

Head of the Tbilisi-backed Abkhaz government-in-exile Malkhaz Akishbaia said on March 14 that fragments of up to 25 rockets have been recovered from the gorge so far.

“Here we have all the evidence proving that the gorge came under fire from both air and land [by Abkhaz forces]. It is also clear that the helicopters entered into the Georgian airspace from the Russian Federation, and experts investigating the incident will confirm this,” Akishbaia added.

Both the Abkhaz and Russian sides have strongly denied being behind the incident.

A joint fact-finding team consisting of UN observers, Russian peacekeepers, and representatives from the Georgian and Abkhaz sides launched an investigation into the reported attack on March 13. No findings of the group have been unveiled yet.

Meanwhile, officials in Tbilisi, including State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Merab Antadze and Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, said that a possible aim of the provocation is the “creation of a negative atmosphere” about security conditions in upper Kodori Gorge ahead of a UN Security Council session that is expected to discuss Abkhazia in April.

Georgia’s Ambassador in the UN Irakli Alasania told a media briefing in New York on March 13 that the attack on upper Kodori Gorge was an act of provocation and he has already informed the UN Secretary General about it.

He said that Georgia will not allow itself to be influenced by acts of provocation and remains committed to the peace process, “although we clearly understand that there is a high probability for the reoccurrence of similar provocations.”

The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said on March 13 it is “deeply concerned by the reports of attacks in upper Kodori Gorge and condemns any such acts of violence” and called on the parties concerned for restraint.


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