Shevardnadze Says Gamsakhurdia Was a ‘Political Corpse’
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze today shrugged off the death of his arch-rival as a matter of ″small importance″ for the country.
Shevardnadze did not express any sorrow over the reported suicide of rebel leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia, although he said he ″would prefer Gamsakhurdia to be alive.″
In any event, the former president ″has long been a political corpse,″ Shevardnadze said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Gamsakhurdia led a rebellion aimed at unseating Shevardnadze and regaining the presidency, which he had lost in a brief civil war two years ago.
Gamsakhurdia’s wife said Wednesday he killed himself on New Year’s Eve after being surrounded by government forces in western Georgia.
But Georgian officials suggested he was actually shot in a quarrel with his supporters, and Shevardnadze’s spokesman said the government still had no clear proof of Gamsakhurdia’s death.
Shevardnadze sent a group of police investigators today to Gamsakhurdia’s stronghold, the Zugdidi election of western Georgia, to clear up his fate.
Shevardnadze also was weighing a request from Gamsakhurdia’s family that the ex-president be buried in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. No decision was announced.
Gamsakhurdia’s death leaves his supporters without a clear leader and could end the rebellion.
Shevardnadze still faces a separate insurrection by separatists in the Abkhazia region along the Black Sea, but peace talks aimed at settling that conflict are scheduled for next week.
Gamsakhurdia’s demise, together with the Abkhazian negotiations, offers the first fragile hope in months that peace may return to the tiny, war-torn former Soviet republic of 5.5 million people.
Gamsakhurdia, 54, led Georgia’s drive for independence and was elected in 1991 as its first president. But he was ousted less than a year later, in January 1992, by former allies who accused him of becoming a dictator.
He fled across the Caucasus Mountains to Chechnya, a breakaway region of Russia. From there, he began a bitter struggle to unseat Shevardnadze and regain power.
Last fall, Gamsakhurdia’s armed followers seized several villages and railroad junctions in western Georgia. But Shevardnadze’s troops eventually gained the upper hand and closed in on Gamsakhurdia’s stronghold.
Shevardnadze denied today that he wanted Gamsakhurdia dead. ″The Georgian leadership did not set itself the task of physically destroying him and his followers,″ he told Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency.
David Mumladze, an aide to Georgia’s security minister, said Wednesday the government did not believe that Gamsakhurdia committed suicide.
Mumladze suggested Gamsakhurdia could have been killed by his supporters to make him a martyr. He also said there were reports that Gamsakhurdia had a serious row with his former chief commander, Loty Kobalia.
Shevardnadze backed that version, saying Gamsakhurdia ″had become a nuisance″ to other rebel leaders.
″Whatever the real reason for ... Gamsakhurdia’s death, it is a matter of small importance for the republic,″ he said.