Unless the leaders of the former Soviet republic of Georgia can reach a political agreement with their peers in Abkhazia, a region of the republic now fighting for independence, a "large-scale war" will erupt, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin warned Thursday.
Yeltsin made his remarks upon arrival in Bishkek, the capital of 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.
Georgian and Abkhazian negotiators have agreed to meet with him next week on a ship anchored in the Black Sea near Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, Yeltsin said. But 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 wild 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 A. Shevardnadze, the chairman of Georgia's ruling State Council, the Russian Information Agency reported. The letter asserts that execution lists are being compiled and that 800 Georgians were killed in Gagra, which Georgia lost to Abkhazian separatists Friday.
Abkhazians, however, loudly denied the charges.
The letter also repeated accusations that Russia is providing arms to the Abkhazians.
But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told reporters: "Statements made by Georgian officials over the past few days, accusing Russia of assisting one of the sides in the Abkhazian conflict, are groundless."
Abkhazian rebels, who have taken control of three key cities in the region, are demanding independence from Georgia; Shevardnadze has declared that Georgia will not give up the territory.
As the fighting rages, Georgians are preparing for a national election Sunday; Shevardnadze has insisted it will go on as scheduled. The election is important because it may give legitimacy to Georgia's government, which last December violently deposed Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the republic's first popularly elected president, who was accused of being a dictator.