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New border between old enemies2010-11-09 12:33
New border guard bases are prepared to be installed in Gal district of Abkhazia. Georgian mass media report about unprecedented security measures and road blocking connected with the opening ceremony. However, it's all quiet in Gal. Construction noise becomes discernable near the border. At first military facilities don't look like ones. An eye seeks locators or barbed wire and finds comfortable cottages instead.
This is a frontline for the Russian contingent in Abkhazia. The villages that host military bases are located right on the border. Georgia is a stone's throw or a walk across the river away.
Early in the morning of November 8 Russian border guards found a man near the gates of their base in Nabakevi village. His name is Garry Jopua, a citizen of Abkhazia who went missing a month ago in a near-border village of Georgia. The entrepreneur selling vegetables and fruit got to the Georgian side in his car by accident. Naturally, he was taken prisoner. Jopua fails to recognize his relatives, so it will be investigated what happened to him in captivity.
A similar story would hardly happen to a citizen of some other country maintaining normal relations with neighbors. Division of the territory of two conflicting states is still nominal. Sometimes it is impossible to see where Abkhazia ends and where Georgia starts. The task of the Russian border guards is to change this situation. Very soon people will stop falling victims to Georgian police "incidentally".
Ruslan Kishmaria, the president's plenipotentiary in Gal district, has good contacts "on the other side" always knowing the danger emanating from the neighboring state at a given moment. When Jopua disappeared he personally took charge of the work that turned out too difficult for law-enforcement bodies and identified the kidnappers. He also managed to find out what security structures they worked in. Kishmaria is certain that a real border is the only possibility to keep the region safe from kidnapping, crime and smuggling.
The sight of the Georgian-Abkhaz border is very untypical of Caucasus. Two countries are divided by the Ingur, a thin mountain river, not high mountain peaks. Any person over 10 years old can ford the river in numerous places. Still one can never be sure that the states lie on opposite sides of the mountain stream.
Ganmukhuri is a very peculiar locality in the Georgian-Abkhaz border territory near the sea. Part of the Georgian land is on the left bank of the river, i.e. on the Abkhaz side. Old people tell legends about an Abkhaz prince who lost a piece of land on the Ingur river bank to Georgians which led to this weird territory division. Soviet maps feature this locality as part of Georgia's Zugdidi district. At the time of the war in August 2008 the place was controlled by Russian troops with Georgians returning there later. Before 2008 events Mikheil Saakashvili dreamed of turning Ganmukhuri into a sample region for the Abkhaz - eventually a patriotic camp for Georgian young people was built there. Even Georgia's friends misunderstood the idea to place a children's camp in the conflict zone.
In the second half of October Abkhaz president Sergey Bagapsh paid a visit to the military bases and settlements under construction. The interest of Sukhum authorities in having a well-equipped border is clear. Still, introduction of a fully fledged customs regime will cut the only source of income for local population - i.e. smuggling flows. To avoid increase in social tension, the Abkhaz authorities will have to set up legal channels for economic activity. Presently trade is prospering on the Abkhaz-Georgian border while economic relations have no legal basis.