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Georgian Leader Flees Fallen City of Sukhumi : Rebellion: Russia is blamed by Shevardnadze for 'masterminding' attack by Abkhazian separatists.

September 29, 1993|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Georgian President Eduard A. Shevardnadze on Tuesday fled the rebel-captured city of Sukhumi for his own capital of Tbilisi, where he blamed the Russian military for "masterminding" the assault and charged that the victorious troops were executing "scores" of pro-Georgian officials and ordinary citizens.

Shevardnadze returned home on a troop transport plane after his troops failed to hold off the capture of Sukhumi by Abkhazian separatists, whose attack on the city broke a seven-week cease-fire brokered by Russia and designed to end a yearlong war.

The city's capitulation produced tens of thousands of ethnic Georgian refugees. About 10,000 were transported by ferry overnight to the Russian port of Sochi, which, like Sukhumi, is on the Black Sea. Unconfirmed reports said that as many as 100,000 were massed at the Sukhumi airport, which was still controlled by Georgian troops.

The fall of Sukhumi was the most dramatic success for Abkhazian nationalists in the war, one of three armed conflicts afflicting the once-prosperous Georgia.

Shevardnadze, appearing tired and wan at a news conference soon after his arrival in Tbilisi, expressed fears that the rebels' success could encourage other ethnic groups within the country and lead to Georgia's disintegration.

"The loss of Sukhumi is a great moral and political blow," he said. "We have been brought to our knees." Sukhumi will be recaptured, he pledged, but he expressed doubt that it would happen in his lifetime.

Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, bitterly charged the Russian military with complicity in the Abkhazian advance.

"The plan to occupy Sukhumi was masterminded at Russian headquarters," he said, adding that he felt betrayed in his July agreement to a Russian-negotiated cease-fire.

The Russian government has continually denied that it has aided the Abkhazian rebels, although local news reports and other indications suggest that military commanders in the region might have been assisting the Abkhazian forces without the approval of Moscow, which cannot always exercise full control over outlying units.

The Russian government on Tuesday reiterated its denial of complicity in the advance and said the Abkhazian leadership ignored its appeals to halt the fighting. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman also said the government is "perplexed and concerned about the anti-Russian coloring" of Shevardnadze's statements.

Shevardnadze's charge that Abkhazian troops "executed scores of officials, policemen and ordinary citizens" remained unconfirmed Tuesday.

Civil War's Toll: 3,000 Dead

Facts and figures on Georgia and the civil war in Abkhazia:

* History: Georgia gained independence in 1991 with breakup of Soviet Union. First popularly elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, ousted in January, 1992, by former allies who accused him of dictatorship. Eduard A. Shevardnadze, former Soviet foreign minister, took over two months later.

* Abkhazia: Separatists in coastal province want independence or to join Russia. 3,000 dead since Shevardnadze sent in troops a year ago. Latest Abkhazian offensive began two weeks ago, violating peace agreement.

* Russia's role: Claims neutrality. But Georgians accuse Russian military of helping the separatists. Some Russians want to retain control of former Soviet bases and resorts in the region.

Source: Times staff and wire reports

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