Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia on Tuesday marked the 12th anniversary since its troops forced out Georgian government forces from the provincial capital of Sukhumi.
The city fell to local forces on Sept. 27, 1993, after 11 days of fighting. Abkhaz leaders joined in a wreath-laying ceremony where veterans of the conflict are buried in the city.
In the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, around 1,000 people held a rival rally to commemorate the loss of Sukhumi and mass exodus of ethnic Georgians from Abkahzia. On Sept. 30, Abkhazia will celebrate its independence day.
Abkhazia has run its own affairs since 1993, when separatists drove out Georgian government troops. The Black Sea region is not recognized internationally, but has cultivated closer ties with Russia, the AP reports. Since coming to power in 2004, pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to reunite his fractured Caucasus Mountain country and bring Abkhazia and another renegade province, South Ossetia, back under central control. "Our common victory will be when, together with the Abkhaz in Sukhumi, we celebrate the reconciliation of Georgians and the Abkhaz," Saakashvili said Tuesday.
The Georgian government estimates that 300,000 people fled Abkhazia as a result of the separatist war, including 240,000 ethnic Georgians. Between 40,000 and 50,000 ethnic Georgians have returned, the government says. AM