Georgian president charges general with treason

Officer declared loyalty to autonomous area leader

April 21, 2004|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Ratcheting up pressure against the rebellious leader of an autonomous area on the Black Sea, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili leveled treason charges yesterday against a general who had declared loyalty to the regional strongman.

Saakashvili said the general had "betrayed his country" by throwing his support to Aslan Abashidze, the defiant head of the Adzharia region in this former Soviet republic. Wanted posters with the mutinous general's photo "will be put up on trees all over Georgia," he said.

"We have not given Adzharia to anyone, and no criminal will be able to break the strong will of the state that Georgia is indivisible and has a single set of laws," the U.S.-educated president said, in comments reported by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Georgia's Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Maj. Gen. Roman Dumbadze, who on Monday told reporters in the Adzharian capital, Batumi, that he would take orders only from Abashidze. The Georgian prosecutor-general's office accused the general of treason, defiance of legitimate authorities, creation of an illegal armed group, illegal acquisition of firearms and abuse of power.

The general, who headed the Georgian army brigade based in Adzharia until the central government fired him April 3, said Monday that he was still in command of the brigade and was placing it under the regional leader's control, Russian news agencies reported.

But many of the brigade's officers refused to obey him and traveled to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, where the president thanked them yesterday for remaining loyal.

Adzharia has autonomy under Georgia's constitution, but Abashidze has run the region like a private fiefdom, keeping a tight rein on dissent and taking on additional powers. This was tolerated by former President Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who resigned in November under the pressure of huge protests, but Saakashvili has pledged to bring the region back within the framework of the constitution.

Saakashvili, 36, now faces "a moment of truth," Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, a Tbilisi-based think tank, said in a telephone interview.

"A young leader who is popular, who came on a white horse, is confronting harsh reality," he said. "It's an open confrontation between Abashidze's clan ... and the central government."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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