Fighting raged Monday in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, where separatists and government fighters have clashed repeatedly over the past week.
The government and separatists claimed sharply differing death tolls from weekend fighting. Dali Zhodzhua, a spokeswoman for Abkhazia's ethnic Georgians, said Monday that 15 Georgian civilians had died in the fighting, which also killed up to 300 Abkhazian militants.A spokesman for separatist leader Vladislav Ardzinba said Abkhazian forces had killed more than 100 Georgian fighters, the Interfax news agency reported.
It was impossible to independently confirm the reports. The government and separatists have been giving conflicting casualty accounts since the fighting erupted early last week in Abkhazia's Ghali region.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Monday in his weekly radio address that some 30,000 ethnic Georgians had fled the Ghali region and accused the Abkhazians of carrying out an "ethnic purge" using long-range artillery.
He said that "the results of the ethnic purge would have been even more tragic if not for the self-defense units, guerrillas who resisted and in fact saved the defenseless population of Georgian villages from mass annihilation and gave them a chance to flee."
The separatists countered that they were resisting attacks by Georgian militants.
Clashes continued Monday despite a protocol on settling the conflict signed Sunday by Ardzinba and Shevardnadze's envoy, Vazha Lordkipanidze.
Abkhazia, a lush Black Sea province in northern Georgia, declared independence in 1992.