Shevardnadze: Withdrawal of Russian Peacekeepers from Abkhazia Will Lead to Bloody Tragedy

The withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the zone of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict could lead to 'a long and bloody war' which is neither in the interests of Georgians nor Abkhazians. This was announced by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in an interview with national radio yesterday. At the same time Mr Shevardnadze emphasised that Georgia would only ask the peacekeepers to leave when 'there is no more chance of attacks from the armed groups which are being supported in every way possible by another country.'

Mr Shevardnadze said that he would 'not take any decision that could lead to another tragedy.' He said that one must think about the consequences of the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers for, according to his mandate, the military UN inspectors, who 'have helped to avoid many tragedies,' would have to leave the zone of conflict after the Russian peacekeepers. The Georgian president believes there is a serious danger that terrorists would return to Abkhazia if the Russian peacekeepers left as was the case in 1998 when 60 thousand Georgians were forced out of their homes. He expressed the fear that something similar could now happen in the Zugdid region of western Georgia. He confessed that Georgia is still not in a position to cope with the kind of situation that would arise if the Russian peacekeepers were withdrawn.

Mr Shevardnadze also said that Georgia is prepared to accept peacekeepers from other countries. He said that several countries have already expressed their willingness to send peacekeeping forces to Abkhazia but only after the UN Security Council has made a decision on the issue. He added that the UN is not yet ready to implement that article of its charter that involves enforced peace. 'Foreign allies are also warning us that there are no alternatives to the current peace-keeping operation in Abkhazia,' admitted the Georgian leader.

Russian peacekeepers have been in the zone of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict since 1994, under the aegis of the CIS.