Georgia Says Separatists Seized Villages

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TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that Russian-backed separatists from the province of Abkhazia had taken over 13 villages in Georgia and a power plant.

Russian army units and separatist militants shifted the border of breakaway Abkhazia toward the Inguri River, setting up temporary administration in 13 villages and putting the Inguri hydropower plant under separatist control, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Abkhaz officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the late-night report.

Most of the villages and plant are in a buffer zone established by a 1994 U.N cease-fire resolution that ended a war over the province and left it with de facto independence.

It appeared that the separatists were bolstering their control over the area after Russian-backed Abkhazian fighters forced Georgians out of their last stronghold in the province earlier this week.

The renewed military action in Abkhazia came alongside fighting in another breakaway province in Georgia, South Ossetia, that has pit Russian and U.S.-backed Georgian forces against each other since Aug. 7 and prompted world diplomatic efforts to end the violence.

The buffer zone runs between Abkhazia's Gali region and Georgia's Zugdidi region, including a narrow, mountainous strip between Abkhazian territory and the Inguri River.

Abkhazian forces moved into the buffer zone last weekend in what the province's president said was a bid to "enforce order" and eliminate the Georgian militants who had mounted attacks on Abkhazian police and security forces from there.

Sergei Bagapsh acknowledged the Abkhazian move into the buffer zone would violate the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1993 war, but claimed that Georgia was the first to violate the truce.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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