Tue, May 06, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Georgia seeks UN probe on Abkhazia air defense system

AFP , TBILISI AND SUKHUMI, GEORGIA

Georgia yesterday called for the UN to probe the use of anti-aircraft weapons in its rebel region of Abkhazia, which on Sunday claimed to have downed two Georgian spy drones.

Georgia denied the planes were shot down.

But its foreign ministry urged the UN “to immediately institute an investigation regarding the presence and utilization of ‘air defense systems’ by the Abkhaz separatists in the security zone and to inform the international community about the results.”

“Abkhaz anti-aircraft forces today destroyed two unmanned Georgian spy planes” over eastern Abkhazia, the de facto defense ministry of the self-declared Abkhaz republic said in a statement.

Authorities were searching for fragments of the planes, the statement said.

But Georgia’s interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili immediately denied that any aircraft had been shot down.

“We categorically deny the loss of any Georgian planes,” Utiashvili said. “There were no Georgian planes flying in the region.”

A ministry statement described reports that the planes were shot down as “misinformation” and “another provocation ... aimed at facilitating Russia’s military intervention by providing information and propaganda support.”

Abkhazia, a Moscow-backed province that broke away from Georgian control during a war in the early 1990s, claimed on Sunday to have downed two unmanned Georgian reconnaissance plane, two weeks after a similar incident hiked tensions in the region.

Georgia has alleged that a Russian MiG-29 had downed a Georgian spy plane on April 20 in an incident Tbilisi described as “an act of aggression.”

Relations between Russia and Georgia have deteriorated since Moscow announced it was strengthening cooperation with Abkhazia and breakaway Georgian region South Ossetia.

In Moscow, a foreign ministry statement accused Tbilisi of stoking tensions.

“Resorting to adventures with unmanned reconnaissance planes ... the authorities in Tbilisi have taken the road of deliberately stoking tension in the region,” the statement said.

“Yet another provocative incident with two Georgian drones, which was played out on the scheme that had been worked out by Georgia’s defense ministry in advance, is proof that Tbilisi no longer considers the possibility of a peaceful resolution,” the Russian defense ministry said.

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