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Russia to detain Georgian ships off Abkhazia

Russia to detain Georgian ships off Abkhazia

Russia heightened tensions with Georgia Tuesday by warning that it will detain Georgian ships entering the territorial waters of Abkhazia, a breakaway province allied with Moscow, news agencies reported.
Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations after a brief war with Georgia last year and has posted thousands of troops in both regions. Georgia, whose military was routed during the fighting, has in recent months tried to assert authority over Abkhazia in part by stopping ships from delivering cargo there.
Russian coast guard chief Lt. Gen. Viktor Trufanov said Tuesday that Georgia has illegally intercepted more than 20 ships in the Black Sea off Abkhazia this year, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. He said that Russia forces will intercept but not destroy any Georgian ships that try to stop ships in Abkhazian waters from now on.
"We will do everything to ensure the security of the Russian state, the security of the Abkhazian state. We have a task and we will carry it out," Interfax quoted Trufanov as saying.
Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia all have Black Sea coastlines and maritime tensions have escalated, as Georgia has sought to block Abkhazia's trade. Georgian authorities detained a Turkish vessel in the area in August and sentenced its captain to 24 years in prison, but released him free him earlier this month after the Turkish foreign minister got involved.
Two weeks ago, Abkhazian authorities warned they would open fire on any Georgian ships entering what they consider Abkhazian waters.
Tuesday's warning from the coast guard chief provoked anger in Georgia.
"From the perspective of international maritime law, the (Russian) coast guards are pirates and this is plain and simple occupation," Giorgi Kandelaki, deputy chairman of the Georgian parliament's foreign relations committee, told The Associated Press.
Also adding to tensions, a Georgian official said an explosion damaged a passenger train in Zugdidi, a town near Abkhazia. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said no casualties were reported in the blast, which he called terrorism. There was a similar explosion targeting a train in Zugdidi in early September.
Russia drove Georgian forces out of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in a five-day war in August 2008, badly setting back Georgia's hopes of regaining control over the two provinces even though only Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have recognized them as independent.
Russia has deployed thousands of troops in the regions and signed agreements in April giving it the power to guard their borders.
Also Tuesday, Russia signed new agreements with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia allowing Russia to build new military bases in the regions and to set up joint military units, news agencies reported.
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Associated Press Writer Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili contributed to this report from Tbilisi, Georgia.