Unless the leaders of the former Soviet republic of Georgia can reach a political agreement with separatists fighting to make the region of Abkhazia independent, a "large-scale war" will erupt, Russian President Boris Yeltsin warned Thursday.
Yeltsin made his remarks upon arrival in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, where leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States are meeting to discuss military issues and the warfare raging in several areas of the former Soviet Union.
Yeltsin said negotiators from Georgia and Abkhazia have agreed to meet with him next week in Abkhazia. He insisted that the two sides must lower their demands so a truce is possible, "Otherwise we will have on our hands not just a political impasse, but a developing large-scale war."
Reports from Abkhazia told of thousands fleeing to avoid the all-out warfare that appeared inevitable and because of rumors that Abkhazian forces killed hundreds of Georgian civilians after capturing the strategic city of Gagra.
"The peaceful population of Abkhazia is threatened with extermination," a leader of the Georgian faction of the Abkhazian legislature wrote to Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze, the chairman of Georgia's ruling state council, the Russian Information Agency reported. The letter asserted that execution lists are being compiled and that 800 Georgians were killed in Gagra. Abkhazians denied the charges.
Abkhazian rebels, who have taken control of three key cities in the region, are demanding independence from Georgia. Shevardnadze has declared Georgia will not give up the territory.
As the fighting rages, Georgians are preparing to go to the polls Sunday for a national election; Shevardnadze has insisted it will go on as scheduled. The election is important because it may give legitimacy to Georgia's government, which in December violently deposed Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the republic's first popularly elected president, who was accused of being a dictator.