MOSCOW (Reuters) – Georgia, engaged in a large-scale operation to regain control of its breakaway province of South Ossetia, told its other separatist region, Abkhazia, on Friday to stay away from the conflict.
“We hope that the Abkhaz separatists will not undertake any steps that would compound the situation,” Interfax news agency quoted Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili as saying.
“We count on the Abkhazians not adding to problems in the region that could be deplorable for everybody,” he said.
Georgian troops were fighting separatists in the outskirts of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on Friday after seizing large parts of the province, which has maintained effective independence since breaking away in the early 1990s.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia have pledged to cooperate in defending their self-proclaimed independence.
Interfax quoted Abkhaz separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh as saying about 1,000 volunteers from his region were heading to South Ossetia to fight against Georgia.
Interfax also quoted Taimuraz Mamsurov, head of the Russian province North Ossetia, on South Ossetia’s border, as saying “Hundreds of volunteers from North Ossetia are on their way to South Ossetia. We cannot stop them or prevent them from going.”
Bagapsh also said he had ordered his troops to move closer to the Georgian border fearing that an attack on South Ossetia could be followed by a Georgian incursion into his Black Sea province.
The head of the Gali region in Abkhazia, a flashpoint on the Georgian border, said the town was tense but quiet.
“The situation in Gali town is extremely tense. There is no movement of people or troops, but we are strengthening the border with what forces we have,” Abkhaz official Ruslan Kishmariya told Reuters by telephone.
“It is Friday, the markets are full, people are out. But the situation could experience a cardinal change at any moment. Saakashvili showed us that he does not keep his word,” he said.