Kocharian Condemns Georgia Unrest

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Reuters)–President Robert Kocharian telephoned his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze late Monday to voice his support for the authorities in Tbilisi and condemn the armed attack on Georgian troops in West Georgia earlier in the day.

The presidential press office quoted Kocharian as telling Shevardnadze that "stability in Georgia is extremely essential for the region’s security and development."

Meanwhile the Reuters news agency reported that regional authorities regained full control of Georgia’s second city of Kutaisi from opposition soldiers Tuesday with its leader fleeing–Georgian television reported.

The television quoted regional police as saying most of the opposition troops had returned to base and their leader–Akaki Eliava–had disappeared.

He faced charges of treason and a search for him was under way–it said.

The unrest began on Monday when about 200 soldiers seized tanks and armored vehicles and marched on Kutaisi from nearby Senaki.

The brief upheaval had appeared to undermine President Eduard Shevardnadze’s control of the country’s second city–but the troops agreed to return to base on Monday evening after clashing with forces loyal to the government.

Georgian television quoted regional authorities in Kutaisi as saying the city–which is in the western part of the former Soviet republic–was calm and the situation was under control.

It quoted regional police in Senaki as saying about 80 percent of the opposition troops were now back in base. They had taken all their vehicles with them except some damaged in the mutiny–it said.

Eliava’s whereabouts were not known. He commanded a revolt in 1992-93 by nationalist supporters of Georgia’s first post-Soviet president–Zviad Gamsakhurdia–who died in mysterious circumstances during the rebellion in 1993.

Political stability has eluded Georgia for seven years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two regions say they are independent and followers of Gamsakhurdia have never been reconciled to his overthrow and death.

Shevardnadze said Monday the attack was aimed at upsetting plans to pipe oil from Azerbaijan to the West across the mountainous Caucasus.

"We have been doing everything possible to solve problems with construction of the oil pipeline for five or six years–and they are trying to interfere with that," Shevardnadze said.

Presidential spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze told Russia’s ORT television on Monday that one person had died and at least two had been injured in fighting.

Shevardnadze–70–had ordered his troops to defend Kutaisi against the opposition soldiers at all costs.

"It would be unjustifiably irresponsible…to allow the adventurists’ heavy artillery and armored vehicles to enter Georgia’s second largest city," he said.

The opposition soldiers briefly took several senior officials hostage–including Security Minister Jemal Gakhokidze–but they were later freed–state television reported.

In a sign of how Georgia’s economic prospects depend on civil peace–the mutiny prompted a major foreign oil consortium to halt work renovating a pipeline.

The consortium–which is developing Caspian Sea oil deposits–is due to announce plans this month for delivering larger quantities of oil to Black Sea ports. One option–backed by Tbilisi–is to build a much bigger pipeline through Georgia.

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