Mutiny in Mukhrovani
bstoller at SPAMutopia2000.org
Fri May 25 13:15:51 MDT 2001
Reuters; Associated Press; BBC. 25 May 2001. Georgia Troops' Poverty
Protest Sparks Coup Fear. Combined reports.
MUKHROVANI President Eduard Shevardnadze tried on Friday to defuse a
mutiny by hundreds of soldiers which emphasized the Georgian republic's
fragility on the eve of its 10th anniversary of post-Soviet
The revolt sparked fears of renewed strife in a country that has
suffered coups, two civil wars and attempted assassinations since the
1991 collapse of communism.
Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who played a key role
in 1980s East-West detente, decided to meet the rebel soldiers
personally. His motorcade was seen entering a police base outside
Tbilisi occupied by the mutineers.
Before going to the base, Shevardnadze condemned the uprising but
avoided talk of an attempted coup, the term used by one senior minister.
He said he was opposed to prosecuting the soldiers, who said they had
mutinied because of their poverty.
"They have committed a grave crime," Shevardnadze told state television.
"This should be ended today. I'm not in favor of launching criminal
proceedings against them."
The security alert began when 300-400 men of a national guard battalion
quit their garrison, fully armed and driving armored cars, and seized
the nearby base of a division of Interior Ministry troops, some 25 km
(16 miles) from Tbilisi.
The troops refused to obey orders and fired once at negotiators but
there were no casualties, officials said.
Security was tightened at key sites such as parliament and the
president's office and the base was surrounded.
The soldiers freed all the people on the base who did not want to join
the protest, and a bus carried away roughly 40 people.
One protester, an officer who gave only his first name, Lado, emerged
briefly and spoke to a few reporters.
"Our demands are purely social. We want normal conditions for our
military service. We want our salaries to be paid regularly," he said.
"They (the authorities) have stuffed their pockets on the blood of the
people...They do not pay attention to us. This is the only way we can
draw attention to ourselves," said one soldier, who was wearing a mask.
Another said the troops would fire back if "a single bullet from the
government side goes into the leg of a soldier."
Some officials saw sinister motives. "We are dealing with military
adventurism...They have shown armed resistance,"State Security Minister
Vakhtang Kutateladze said on independent Rustavi-2 television. "We are
dealing with an attempted coup."
But the wife of one of the soldiers rejected such talk. "This is not
politics, politics is excluded," Russian television showed her shouting
excitedly at journalists.
"They have no shoes, they have no food, they have nothing."
The wife of one of the soldiers said the troops had not been paid for 13
months, and were forced to earn small amounts of money by giving blood.
She added that last month one soldier in the battalion had died from
It's reported that they won the support of several hundred troops on the
A parliamentarian who traveled to the base also said the soldiers'
actions were linked to economic problems. "There is no threat from their
side. They have concrete demands," said Irakly Batiashvili after talking
to some of the soldiers.
"We all know very well what the social conditions are in the army. Talks
can be held, they have no political demands."
Poor governments throughout the former Soviet Union have been plagued by
chronic wage debts, with teachers, doctors and soldiers going months and
sometimes years without pay. In addition, hazing is rampant in the
military and morale is low, and funding shortages mean uniforms,
equipment and food are often in short supply.
The average monthly wage is just $35 and half the population of 5.5
million live below the poverty line.
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