Russia in operation to storm Abkhazia gorge: Tbilisi

TBILISI Sun Aug 10, 2008 2:05pm BST

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TBILISI (Reuters) - Russia has started an operation to storm the Georgian-controlled Kodori gorge in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, the Georgian Interior Ministry said on Sunday.

Separatist authorities in Abkhazia said earlier they had sent 1,000 troops to the gorge, which Georgian forces control as a strategic foothold in the breakaway Black Sea territory.

Georgia says Russia has sent troops and artillery into Abkhazia.

"They have started the operation to storm Kodori gorge," said Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili. Asked who was behind the operation, he replied: "The Russian army."

The United Nations, which has international monitors in the area, had warned of a possible second front opening in the Georgia-Russia conflict, with Russia already pushing Georgian forces from breakaway South Ossetia.

Georgia has police stationed in the gorge, protecting a parallel pro-Tbilisi Abkhazian government.

"The operation has started," said government spokesman Raul Kiria. "The evacuation of residents is under way. Our government officials are at their posts."

Like South Ossetia, Abkhazia broke away for Georgian control in the early 1990s.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Mary Gabriel)

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