Thursday, March 5, 2009

Abkhaz Incident Opens Up New Vista In Georgia Conflict

March 04, 2009
By Ahto Lobjakas

Irakli Bigvava, a 24-year-old Georgian, is at the center of a new dimension of the conflict simmering between Georgia and its separatist territories.Georgian officials say the young man fled last weekend from his village of Otobaia, in Abkhazia's Gali district, to Georgia proper to escape an attempt to force him to join the Abkhaz armed forces. Bigvava, who sustained serious wounds when he resisted conscription, was carried across the border by his relatives.

Some 70 women and children from Otobaia fled to Georgia along with him; RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports that Abkhaz authorities forced male villagers to remain in Otobaia as hostages. Bigvava now says he is being pressured by fellow escapees to return to Otobaia and turn himself over to the authorities.

Georgia's breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia saw their self-declared independence receive a boost after the Russia-Georgia war in August, when Moscow formally recognized their claim. Since then, both territories have sought to embrace the trappings of statehood in ways that are seen by their ethnic-Georgian populations as increasingly threatening.

Georgian and Western officials fear the Gali incident could constitute an ultimatum to ethnic Georgians -- either assimilate or leave. This would put the Georgian government in a very difficult position and further erode the international community's ability to influence events in the breakaway territories.

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