Georgians fear war over mountainous region Abkhazia

The crackle of gunfire at night makes sleep all but impossible along Georgia's border with separatist Abkhazia, feeding the fears of so many here that the war they hoped was over may be erupting anew.

A cease-fire ended major hostilities between Georgia and Russia after August's five-day war. But shootings and bombings continue – and nowhere more so than here along the poorly defined, porous border that separates Georgia proper from Abkhazia.

Most of the world's attention has focused on the uneasy peace around war-ravaged South Ossetia, the other Russian-backed separatist region that was at the heart of the fighting.

But Georgians who live along the border with the rugged mountainous region of Abkhazia in western Georgia are terrified that a new war is at hand. They fear the latest violence is aimed at driving them from their homes so Abkhaz forces can sweep in unopposed to take their land.

“We live under constant fear,” said Eros, a 50-year-old, out-of-work man. He refused to give his last name, saying he was afraid of retaliation from Abkhaz paramilitaries who move across the border with impunity.

Both Georgia and Abkhazia blame the other for the violence.

On Georgia's side, three police officers have been shot dead from positions just across the border in the past two weeks. In the deadliest attack, the mayor of this border village and a resident were killed by what the Georgian Interior Ministry says was a remotely detonated landmine. A police officer also was severely wounded.

Abkhazia acknowledges its soldiers have fired across the border and may have hit the Georgian police, but says they fire only in response to Georgian attacks.

On the territory of Abkhazia, five people have been killed and several wounded in 13 attacks since Aug. 29, Abkhaz Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Gvindzhiya told The Associated Press.

He said there was evidence the attacks were carried out by Georgian agents intent on portraying the separatist republic as unstable. Georgia accuses Abkhazia of plotting to use the violence to justify a military incursion into Georgian territory.

“This media campaign against us, saying that we are attacking them every day, it reminds me of the period just before the war,” said Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili.

The village of Mujhava sits aside the administrative border that has separated Georgia and Abkhazia since Abkhazia first broke away from Georgian control in the early 1990s.

Nestled in a valley amid densely forested mountain peaks, Mujhava illustrates some of the formidable obstacles in bringing calm to the border: Local police here could not even explain precisely where the border was.

Georgian police and villagers blame Abkhaz forces for the violence.

“If I talk to you the Abkhazians will catch me,” said one frightened villager, who quickly walked away when he realized that he was speaking to a reporter. “I live around this area, it's too dangerous for me to talk to you.”

The August war started when Georgia attacked South Ossetia, which also broke from Georgian government control in the early 1990s. Russian forces swiftly repelled the attack, sending troops and heavy weaponry into both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and then drove deep into Georgia, beyond the two regions.