|UN map of Abkhazia. Click on image to view in detail|
A probe by UN observers has confirmed the Abkhaz version of events surrounding the fatal September 20 clash. Russia will likely capitalize on the results of the investigation ahead of a UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia, expected to be adopted on October 15.
Seven Abkhaz militiamen were captured, several wounded and two former Russian officers, reportedly on contract with the Abkhaz forces, were killed in the clash with Georgian Interior Ministry forces on September 20.
Tbilisi and Sokhumi provided different versions of events, with the location of the incident being a particular point of contention.
The Abkhaz side claimed a border guard training camp at the foot of Mount Bokhundjara on Abkhaz-controlled territory had been attacked. According to the Georgian side, a group of Abkhaz “saboteurs” was intercepted after it had crossed the border, allegedly intent on disrupting work on a road to the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge.
“The incident occurred at the location designated by the Abkhaz side, on the Abkhaz side of the administrative boundary, at approximately 300 meters from that boundary,” a report by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) said.
The conclusion was made based on DNA analysis of blood samples collected both from the men killed in the incident and from the Bokhundjara area, where the Abkhaz border guard camp is located. Additional information was also gathered from the testimonies of witnesses from both sides, according to the report.
The report, however, also “strongly suggests” that the Abkhaz militiamen had been deep inside Georgian-controlled territory immediately prior to the incident. “However, UNOMIG is not in a position to authenticate that information,” it added.
The report also gives credence to accusations made by the Abkhaz and Russian sides that the two men had been executed.
“Examination by UNOMIG forensic experts of the bodies of the two former Russian officers suggests that both were killed by gunshot wounds caused by automatic weapons fired at short and point-blank range,” the report reads.
It, however, also says that for the time being the UNOMIG Fact-Finding Team (FFT) is “not in a position to ascertain the exact circumstances of their death.” UNOMIG said it would continue to probe the matter.
The September 20 clash has been the source of considerable tension between Georgia and Russia, with a verbal war of words being waged by the two sides. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Saakashvili even extended the front to the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session in New York.
Lavrov said the September 20 incident involved Georgian special ops forces brutally executing two Abkhaz militiamen. In response, Saakashvili said while addressing the General Assembly on September 26 that the accusations were "unconstructive and unsubstantiated and untrue."
The September 20 incident took place outside the area of responsibility of UNOMIG and Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in the conflict zone under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). UNOMIG, however, was permitted by both the Abkhaz and Georgian sides to carry out the probe.
In a recent report on Abkhazia issued on October 8, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended that areas between the zone of conflict and the Kodori Gorge be put under international monitoring, with the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and artillery radar.
The Abkhaz side welcomed the proposal. “In my opinion, this proposal by the UN is in our interests. It will help to improve the security situation in ‘grey spots’ - in areas around the border with Georgia,” Sergey Shamba, the Abkhaz foreign minister, said.
The UN Security Council will adopt a new resolution on Abkhazia on October 15. In a previous resolution adopted in April, the Security Council called on Tbilisi to ensure that the situation in the upper Kodori Gorge was in line with the 1994 Moscow Ceasefire Agreement.
Georgian officials say Russia wants this provision included in the new document. “We, however, have stressed during consultations [with Security Council members] that there has been obvious progress in Kodori and this should be adequately reflected in the resolution,” Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters on October 9.