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Georgian President  Gives  Adjaria'  Leader  10-day Ultimatum - 2004-05-03


Georgian officials say every effort is being made to find a peaceful resolution to the latest tensions with the autonomous Adjaria region. The situation degraded sharply over the weekend, with Adjaria's leader, Adlan Abashidze, blowing up major bridges connecting Adjaria to Georgia. President Mikhail Saakashvili responded by issuing a 10-day ultimatum to Mr. Abashidze to accept central rule, or risk being ousted.

Georgia's foreign ministry describes Mr. Abashidze as "unacceptable" and says under his leadership, Adjaria has been torn apart from the rest of Georgia and now stands on the brink of a "humanitarian disaster."

Mr. Abashidze said he ordered the bridges destroyed in order to keep Georgian forces out of Adjaria.

At the time, Georgia's air, land and sea forces were engaged in large-scale annual military exercises near Adjaria. They have since left the region, with the exception of one tank brigade.

Mr. Abashidze has repeatedly accused President Saakashvili of planning to take over Adjaria by force, a claim the president and his officials deny.

President Saakashvili says within 10-days Mr. Abashidze must start disarming armed paramilitary groups and return law and order as required by Georgia's Constitution.

Otherwise, the foreign ministry statement says, the Georgian President will consider dissolving the regional authorities in Adjaria and calling new elections.