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Soviet Georgia Rebels Lose Base; No Sign of a Struggle


TBILISI, Soviet Union — The armed opposition to Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia lost its hilltop redoubt and splintered into squabbling factions Friday, with some leaders demanding that mutinous national guard units pull out of the capital.

Talks between the opposition and Gamsakhurdia's government, hosted by Ilya II, the widely respected prelate of the Georgian church, continued late into the night. The political crisis has claimed six deaths this month.

National guard units hostile to Gamsakhurdia continued to guard the opposition headquarters at the Tbilisi Television Center with a 100-millimeter cannon, an armored personnel carrier and scores of rifles and automatic weapons. The government had given them until Thursday night to turn in their guns, but at last report, only 15 firearms had been handed over.

Apparently without a shot being fired, the national guard units that had mutinied against Gamsakhurdia suffered an embarrassing, perhaps decisive setback when loyalist troops seized their mountain sanctuary outside Tbilisi.

Col. Tengiz Kitovani, a former sculptor who heads the rebel troops, announced to the crowd at the television center that government forces had launched a surprise attack on the sanctuary, murdering 60 unarmed guardsmen.

Some women in the crowd burst into tears and wailed with grief. Kitovani called on those present with cars to drive throughout the city, wake up the population and tell people of the guardsmen's murders.

Maj. Dzhanier Gvindzhilia, the commander of the battalion that took over the rebel stronghold, mocked Kitovani's account. He said the rebellious national guard units had left only two men at the camp and that they threw down their arms and were allowed to go free.

A group of Western journalists who visited the site three hours before the alleged assault found no troops there. Seven hours after the supposed massacre, there were no signs of struggle at the camp, and guardsmen jokingly challenged visiting correspondents to find any bodies.

By seizing the camp, the loyalists apparently bagged the rebels' air force--three MI-2 helicopters, only two of which were in working order, Soviet journalists said.

For some leaders in the opposition, Kitovani's report of the massacre and his inability to protect the camp proved that he is an untrustworthy "adventurist."

"Great mistakes have been made," said Nodar Natadze, the head of the Georgian Popular Front, a grass-roots nationalist group, and a member of the legislature. He said keeping the military guard at the television headquarters would provoke Gamsakhurdia's forces to attack.

However, the chairman of another opposition group, the liberal Democratic National Party, said it would be foolhardy to relinquish the military shield that protects the television center. Mikhail Nanvishvili, a professor of philosophy at Tbilisi State University, said Gamsakhurdia would try to rout the mutinous troops if they abandoned the television center.

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