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    Report: Abkhaz troops push Georgians from gorge

    MOSCOW (AP): Troops in the separatist Georgian province of Abkhazia launched an operation Tuesday to push Georgian forces out of the northern Kodori Gorge, the only area of the province still under the control of the former Soviet republic, the Interfax news agency reported.

    The operation in the western region comes as Russian troops have pressed into Georgia in an escalating conflict that started last week over another breakaway province, South Ossetia in central Georgia.

    The Interfax report cited the Abkhaz defense headquarters as saying the operation started early Tuesday to push Georgian troops out of the northern part of the Kodori Gorge. The report gave no other details. The operation could not immediately be independently verified.

    Russian-backed separatist forces in Abkhazia launched air and artillery strikes Saturday to drive Georgian troops from their bridgehead in the region. Abkhazia's separatists declared Sunday they would push Georgian forces out of the gorge.

    On Monday, Russian troops invaded Georgia from Abkhazia while most Georgian forces were busy with fighting in the region around South Ossetia.

    Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s and have built up ties with Moscow.

    In 2006, Georgian forces moved into the upper part of the Kodori Gorge to root out members of a defiant militia. Georgia later established a local administration made up of people who fled the fighting in Abkhazia.

    Abkhazian and Russian officials have said they believe Georgia intends to launch an offensive from there to retake Abkhazia and demanded the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the area.


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